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Space radiation may accelerate Alzheimer’s in astronauts

Washington, Jan 3 (): A new research on mice conducted at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York’s Long Island suggests that radiation in space might cause harm to the brain of astronauts in deep space because galactic cosmic radiation could cause Alzheimer’s disease.

The scientists further added that the eight-year long study reveals another risk that manned deep-space missions to places such as the asteroids or Mars could cause.

Author Kerry O’Banion, a neuroscientist at the University of Rochester Medical Center, said in a statement 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. Researchers said the cosmic radiation beyond low Earth orbit could lead to cancer, cardiovascular disease, even cataracts.

The neuroscientists said galactic cosmic radiation poses a significant threat to future astronauts. They used mice and exposed them to cosmic radiation that was simulated in the lab. Those mice genetically engineered with a predisposition to Alzheimer’s declined mentally after exposure to simulated cosmic radiation.

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

O`Banion said these findings very clearly suggest exposure to the radiation in deep space has very great potential to hasten the development of Alzheimer`s disease.

For more than 25 years, NASA has funded studies to see what the potential dangers of space travel might be. The findings are now revealed as NASA continues to plan for manned missions to a distant asteroid of Mars in 2021 with an eventual trip to Mars scheduled for 2035. The round trip to Mars is expected to take as long as three years.

Among the other major questions raised by this study is whether human travel to low-orbit space remains safe. Still, the process remains far from complete and more studies are likely to follow.