Published: Sat, March 11, 2017
Science | By Guadalupe Butler

Radiation study points to leukemia risk for Mars explorers

Radiation study points to leukemia risk for Mars explorers

"This could translate into a severely weakened immune system and anemia during prolonged missions in deep space", Christopher Porada, Ph.D., associate professor of regenerative medicine and senior researcher on the project, said in a press release.

Recent research suggests that the astronauts who will take part in NASA's three-year-long Mars Mission could see their risk of leukemia or blood cancer dramatically go up.

For the time in almost six and a half years, the US Congress has passed a bill to fund the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), allocating $19.5 billion to the agency for research, exploration and space operations.

The human hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) from healthy people of astronaut age were exposed to solar energetic particles and galactic cosmic ray radiation.

Secondly, the radiation also made it more hard for the stem cells to produce the kinds of white blood cells that fight foreign invaders, reducing the immune system's ability to "eliminate the malignant cells that arise as a result of radiation-induced mutations".

Space travelers including astronauts may be at risk of leukemia because of the effects of deep space radiation. Such trips would have to traverse an average 140 million miles of vacuum, and take about three years, roundtrip.

Researchers sampled stem cells from donors aged 30 to 50 years, which is the usual age range for NASA astronauts.

The mission plans to, by making an all-round exploration and high-precision scientific probes in limited area, study the inner structure, surface, atmosphere, and ambient space environment of the red planet, and as a result give insight into the origin and evolution of the solar system, information about extraterrestrial life and other big scientific challenges. Exposed mice developed what researchers deemed to be T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

The team found that deep space radiation lowered the stem cells' ability to produce new blood cells by 60% to 80%. "We found that genetic damage to HSCs directly led to leukemia". Porada said that it is however rewarding to use their expertise in stem cells in order to help NASA in evaluating the potential health risks of space travel and hopefully develop certain strategies that would enable them to address these health hazards. Secondly, radiation also altered the ability of HSCs to generate T and B cells, types of white blood cells involved in fighting foreign "invaders" like infections or tumour cells.

"Radiation exposure at these levels was highly deleterious to HSC function, reducing their ability to produce nearly all types of blood cells, often by 60-80pc", said senior researcher on the project, Prof Christopher Porada.

Recently, there was news that normal humans will also be given this opportunity to experience space travel.

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