January 05, 2013
Mars Trip Would Speed Up Brain Aging And Alzheimers

Radiation levels comparable to what Mars astronauts would get exposed to accelerated amyloid beta (Aβ) plaque accumulation in mice.

As if space travel was not already filled with enough dangers, a new study out today in the journal PLOS ONE shows that cosmic radiation which would bombard astronauts on deep space missions to places like Mars could accelerate the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

We need to develop rejuvenation therapies before we attempt to colonize Mars. We also need biotechnologies that will enable colonists to use microorganisms and plants to produce drugs, textiles, and structural materials.

"Galactic cosmic radiation poses a significant threat to future astronauts," said M. Kerry O'Banion, M.D., Ph.D., a professor in the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy and the senior author of the study. "The possibility that radiation exposure in space may give rise to health problems such as cancer has long been recognized. However, this study shows for the first time that exposure to radiation levels equivalent to a mission to Mars could produce cognitive problems and speed up changes in the brain that are associated with Alzheimer's disease."

While space is full of radiation, the earth's magnetic field generally protects the planet and people in low earth orbit from these particles. However, once astronauts leave orbit, they are exposed to constant shower of various radioactive particles. With appropriate warning, astronauts can be shielded from dangerous radiation associated with solar flares. But there are also other forms of cosmic radiation that, for all intents and purposes, cannot be effectively blocked.

We also need to find out whether neurological impairment from radiation on a Mars trip would cause cognitive impairment during the early months of human life on Mars.

At Brookhaven, the animals were exposed to various doses of radiation, including levels comparable to what astronauts would be experience during a mission to Mars. Back in Rochester, a team of researchers including URMC graduate student Jonathan Cherry, who was first author on the paper evaluated the cognitive and biological impact of the exposure. The mice underwent a series of experiments during which they had to recall objects or specific locations. The researchers observed that mice exposed to radiation were far more likely to fail these tasks suggesting neurological impairment earlier than these symptoms would typically appear.

The brains of the mice also showed signs of vascular alterations and a greater than normal accumulation of beta amyloid, the protein "plaque" that accumulates in the brain and is one of the hallmarks of the disease.

"These findings clearly suggest that exposure to radiation in space has the potential to accelerate the development of Alzheimer's disease," said O'Banion. "This is yet another factor that NASA, which is clearly concerned about the health risks to its astronauts, will need to take into account as it plans future missions."

Share |      Randall Parker, 2013 January 05 04:24 PM 

Jeb said at January 5, 2013 5:49 PM:

"We need to develop rejuvenation therapies before we attempt to colonize Mars."

Why? Earlier onset of Alzheimer's seems like a trivial cost for space colonization.

People who want luxuries like rejuvenation therapies before space colonization are not likely to be at the vanguard of space colonization.

Wolf-Dog said at January 6, 2013 3:46 AM:

Robert Heinlein had solved this problem in one of his first novels: "Orphans Of The Sky". In this novel (which definitely deserves to become a movie, and I am shocked to see that still no director has made a movie based on this novel), a giant space ship is launched to colonize a distant planet that is light years away. The ship is absolutely enormous, like a city-state, and it has a magnetic field generator to block the cosmic radiation. In this novel a mutiny and revolt inside the ship disables the mechanism that maintains the external magnetic field, and only the automatic life support systems remain operational. As a result, there are a lot of mutants in the ship. However, the mutants are executed by the community in the ship, to insure the survival of future generations.


Moral of the story, any long distance space travel will have to use powerful nuclear energy, some of which can be used to generate magnetic fields to shield the spacecraft.

Quincy said at January 7, 2013 9:39 PM:

I have heard that NASA has the astronauts take melatonin while in space as it is strongly neuroprotective...

Post a comment
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
Remember info?

Go Read More Posts On FuturePundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright