Study Reveals Health Risks Associated With Travel to Mars

Exposure to Space Radiation Causes Leukemia?

Space travel to Mars could be a dream come true especially for those who are on the lookout for exhilarating adventure. But for those who are aware of the effects of deep space radiation, they might think about it a hundred times or it may need an immediate “not a good idea” answer at all.

Why would it need a second thought when planning to go for space travel to Mars? Researchers from the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine have the answer to this query.

According to the new study headed by Christopher Porada, Ph.D., associate professor of regenerative medicine and senior researcher on the project, radiation encountered in deep space travel may increase the risk of leukemia in humans.

Porada said, “Our results are troubling because they show radiation exposure could potentially increase the risk of leukemia in two ways.”

Along with this new discovery, the team is determined to identify and is currently testing a common dietary supplement for its ability to protect astronauts from the damaging effects of space radiation.

It is rewarding to use our expertise in stem cells to help NASA evaluate the potential health risks of space travel and hopefully develop strategies to address them,” said Porada.

The study is funded by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

An astronaut on space exploration.
An astronaut on space exploration.

The Study and Key Results

To measure the effects of deep space radiation, researchers transplanted human stem cells to mice with GCR-irradiated human hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), essentially “humanizing” the animals.

The study was undertaken at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Human HSCs from healthy donors of typical astronaut age (30-55 years) were exposed to Mars mission-relevant doses of protons and iron ions, These are the same types of radiation that astronauts would be exposed to in deep space. Then, the researchers performed laboratory and animal studies to define the impact of the exposure.

Here are the results:

With the exposure to space radiation, the mice developed what appears to be T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. This is the first demonstration that exposure to space radiation may increase the risk of leukemia in humans.

Researchers found that the exposure levels simulating deep space radiation were found to dramatically affect the health and function of the HSCs.

Porada said, “Radiation exposure at these levels was highly deleterious to HSC function, reducing their ability to produce almost all types of blood cells, often by 60-80 percent.”

The senior researcher added, “This could translate into a severely weakened immune system and anemia during prolonged missions in deep space.”

In addition, the study pointed out that combined exposure to microgravity and SEP/GCR radiation that would occur during extended deep space missions, such as to Mars, could potentially exacerbate the risk of immune-dysfunction and cancer as well.

Beware of Deep Space Radiation

NASA knows that radiation exposure is believed to be one of the most dangerous aspects of traveling to Mars. The average distance to the red planet is 140 million miles, and a roundtrip could take three years.

Mina Fabulous
Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn't preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.