Astronauts may face considerable health challenges in the long journey, including cancer.
It’s hard to conduct an experiment based on traveling to a far flung planet. Next to impossible. Researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center rose to the challenge though, by studying human cells transplanted into mice.
They wanted to see how human cells would react when exposed to radiation levels similar to those we would encounter in deep space travel.
Which is important- because traveling to Mars and back takes about 3 years.
What was found? The amount of radiation a person would be exposed to in that time, in a space ship hurtling through the universe, could increase their chances of getting cancer.
“Our results are troubling because they show radiation exposure could potentially increase the risk of leukemia in two ways,” said Christopher Porada, Ph.D., associate professor of regenerative medicine and senior researcher on the project.
The radiation in the study caused genetic damage to human hematopoietic stem cells, and altered their ability to produce the type of white blood cells involved in fighting off infections and tumor cells.
“This could translate into a severely weakened immune system and anemia during prolonged missions in deep space,” said Porada.
Scientists are hoping their research will make space missions as safe as possible. In conjunction with this study, NASA’s Human Research Program is also exploring conditions of microgravity, isolation and confinement, hostile and closed environments, and distance from earth on humans. To infinity, and beyond.
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