Extended Radiation Exposure could speed up Alzheimer’s disease in Astronauts

Credit: National Cancer Institute Unknown Photographer - PD

(Best Syndication News) - A recent animal study suggests that cosmic radiation could speed up the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in astronauts traveling on deep space missions. The scientists published their findings in the journal PLOS ONE.

Senior study author, M. Kerry O’Banion, M.D., Ph.D., a professor in the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, explained the cancer health risk factor due to radiation exposure in space has already been acknowledged. However, their researchers wanted to see if there was a risk for developing cognitive problems from the radiation exposure, which could lead to an accelerated onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

The Earth’s magnetic field provides protection from much of the radiation, but when astronauts travel into space they exposed to a variety of radioactive particles.

Sometimes radiation exposure can be minimized for astronauts, such as with radiation from a solar flare, but there are other cosmic radiation sources that are not blocked well.

If astronauts travel into deep space, they will be exposed to low-level radiation for a longer time. NASA is planning for astronauts to travel to a faraway asteroid in 2021 and to Mars in 2035. The round trip to Mars could take around three years to complete. NASA has been financing studies to assess the health risks for over 25 years.

Previous studies have suggested that exposure to galactic cosmic radiation can cause cancer, cardiovascular problems, and musculoskeletal issues.

In this study, O’Banion and colleagues investigated high-mass, high-charged (HZE) radiation particles. The researchers chose iron particles because they would likely penetrate solid objects such as the walls of the spacecraft. O’Banion said that the spacecraft walls would need to be made of lead or concrete six inches thick to protect astronauts from the iron.

The scientists exposed animals to different amounts of radiation. They administered levels to some of the animals that would be similar to what astronauts would be exposed to if they traveled to Mars. The mice were tested for their ability to recall locations and objects. The animals exposed to the most radiation failed the memory tests more often, which suggests earlier impairment. The mice exposed to radiation also had vascular alterations to their brains with more than usual beta amyloid protein, which is a sign of Alzheimer’s disease.

By: Julie Marcus
Science and Technology Writer

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