Marshall Brucer

by nuclearhistory


Marshall Brucer (1913-1994) was the author of “A Chronology of Nuclear Medicine“, Heritage Publications Inc, St Louis, ISBN 0-9625674-0-x, 1990,. Brucer was one of the most honoured post war specialists in Nuclear Medicine. His passing warranted an obitarury written by C.C. Harris and published by the Journal of Nuclear Medicine. A download link to the article is provided by that Journal here:

From this we learn that: ” In December 1948, he became Chairman of the newly formed Medical Division of the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies (OR1NS) in Oak Ridge, TN. He enrolled in the ORINS-Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) Basic Radioisotope Course in 1949 and continued to be a student of
radioisotopes……During this time, Dr.Brucer was very active in the development of internal and teletherapy uses of radioactive material to treat cancer. The year 1952 alone saw the publication of 12 papers on this subject. From 1952-1961 (inclusive), Brucer published 109 papers … (including) education of physicians in medical uses of radioisotopes, and many others, including the acute radiation syndrome.” (Harris) end quote.

There are fairly clear indications in Brucer’s famous book that he rankled at military secrecy, applied to certain radio isotopes, and the restraint this placed upon the progress of nuclear medicine. We can say with certainty that Brucer was of the view secrecy constrained nuclear medicine, fear of radiation constrained nuclear medicine and that nuclear medicine could prolong more lives and ease more suffering if the constraints upon it were removed. But that in no way permits the compulsory treatment of the well or even of the sick. INFORMED CONSENT is not a merely academic concept. It is a legal and moral requirement.

Brucer maintained there was a safe, an even beneficial exposure dose of ionising radiation. Brucer did not clarify the nature, type and characteristics of radiation. As far as I can find.

Harris (see above) writes: “He (Brucer) fought a constant battle with the possibility that hysteria about the hazards of radiation could stifle radiation’s potential for good; he never ceased promoting the idea that radiation is necessary, even good for you. He worried that the result of these fears could be that patients could be “protected from needed diagnosis”. He also never ceased to deliberately over state his case with an irritating but eloquent style that served to command the attention of others and often charmed even his most reactive adversaries”.

So there, very plainly, written by a person who knew him well, is Brucer’s nature, primary motivation and his immediate field of application. He was afraid of people being afraid because if they were he could not ply his trade. His attitude toward patients was common in the 1950s. It’s very old fashioned. He was a the one with expert information. The patient was not, according to him, sufficiently informed. Given that, he had a technique. Over emphasis. If he were alive today, how would modern patients react? I’d seek a different service provider. Easy.

Brucer is optimistic in his treatment of the survivors of the radium paint disaster of the 1920s and 1930s. He claimed that those who did not die from radium induced cancer benefited from their radium exposure and lived longer because of it. (That is how he thought.)

The tolerance level for radium observed by Evans and others and remarked on by Brucer refers to a minute physical amount of radium and does not imply a daily dose requirement of either radium or the alpha radiation it emits.

The radium dial painters who did not suffer radium related cancers are not shown to have enjoyed any benefit because of the presence of the additional radium in their bones as a result of their ingestion of radium which resulted from their occupation.

Further, given that the concept of accumulated dose is valid, the people who were dial painters and who ingested radium as a result, can be seen to be dosed and possibly primed should other additional exposures befall them. In my view.

In a purely technical (and highly unethical) thought experiment, I wonder this: Imagine a radium dial painting factory using 1924 methods (paint brush licking in order to form a fine tip on the brush, as instructed).

Imagine that factory is located at X distance from hypocentre in Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

Question: How would the dial painters have fared compared to other people located at the same distance and who had the same external shielding values?

Would the dial painters have fared better or worse than the non dial painting control cohort?

Living in high background areas is claimed as a health benefit by some highly qualified people who promote Marshall Brucer’s overstated view of Hormesis.

Is there in fact any such health benefit? Let’s look at internationally qualified observation, data and reports.

“Hormesis is a hypothesis that emphasises the possible beneficial effect of low doses of radiation and claims the necessity of a low-dose exposition to get some benefits while excluding any risk. However, this concept is controversial.

According to the hormesis model, people should be exposed to low radiation dose unless it is demonstrated with certitude that there is no benefit from such exposure.

The possibility of adverse effects is not even considered.

We may wonder why the proponents of the hormesis model acknowledge a radiation threshold value for harmful effects, but reject it for beneficial effects.”


“The theory of “adaptive response”, (not to be confused with hormesis) shows that a low dose can reduce the effect of a higher dose when administered after a short time delay. This theory is based on substantial evidence.

To reduce a risk appears beneficial, but it does not mean that the risk is eliminated. According to the “adaptive response” model, a first low dose (conditioning dose) is considered to stimulate the DNA repair mechanisms that contribute to reduce the effect of a subsequent higher dose. But the initial low dose can only stimulate the limited number of cells actually hit, the total of which in function with the dose. This situation never excludes the possibility of a transformation of one of the cells.

The next higher dose concerns all cells. Some of them having the repair mechanisms stimulated by the first conditioning dose, and may repair the damage more easily. The other cells, that were not previously hit, are not protected. The total damage can be reduced by a factor depending on the number of the cells conditioned but will always be dependent on the total number of the cells exposed to both doses.

Would the conditioning of all cells solve the question? No, because to reach such a goal we have to increase the conditioning dose and the risk remains proportional to the dose and to the number of cells irradiated.

Therefore the adaptive response does not appear to be a relevant mechanism for radiation protection because the (low) conditioning dose that defines it, also generates a risk of transformation. On the other hand the challenging dose is not a low dose.” “Low-dose ionizing radiation exposure: Understanding the risk for cellular transformation” By L. DE SAINT-GEORGES,*

SCK•CEN, Department of Radiobiology, Mol, Belgium. Published in: Journal of Biological Regulators and Homeostatic Agents
Received:May 15, 2004\, Accepted:June 26, 2004.

The statements made by Flinders University here: appear to be a confusing amalgam of adaptive response and hormesis. The two “should not be confused”. One has some technical merit but as yet has not produced any new medical treatment. The other is controversial and unproven.

Neither, in my opinion, copes very well with the concepts accumulated dose and allowable lifetime dose.

“body burden”.
“Irati Wanti”

Of course, Brucerites disagree.