The 21st century is known to be the eve when technological industries move on to another level – Space. And not only is it discovering new outcomes and influences, like it was first committed to do so back in the 1970s, yet possible planets to move towards in the near future.
Due to such effort, scientists have sent tens or even hundreds of astronauts into the outer world to help fix, define or collaborate with satellites and other space equipment. This has brought to a continuous list of problematic flaws and inconveniences, including intimidating health risks.
With their colonizing missions to Mars planned for as soon as the 2030s, NASA — as well as private companies interested in space travel concepts — have been looking into effective ways of protecting astronauts from the harms of radiation.
So far, researchers have focused mainly on how to enhance spacecrafts and protective outfits for outer space travelers to fend off this strong radiation.
Now, however, investigators from the University of California, San Francisco — led by Susanna Rosi — have started developing a treatment that might offset the neurodegeneration triggered by cosmic rays.
The results of their experiments, which they carried out on mouse models, are now published in the journal Scientific Reports.
As for research, Rosi with her team conducted 2 research projects on a group of mice which both gave differently evaluated results.
The first concluded that, after mice were exposed to a level of radiation roughly equivalent to what human astronauts might encounter during an outer space mission, their capacity to differentiate between familiar and unfamiliar objects was impaired.
Usually, when mice are faced with two objects — one that is new and unknown to them and one that they formerly explored — they will spend more time familiarizing themselves with the new object.
However, the animals that had been exposed to radiation tended to spend an equal amount of time exploring both objects, which suggested to the researchers that the mice had forgotten they had already been exposed to one of the two.
Other symptoms that the mice presented included problems with social interactions and a sense of elevated anxiety. Rosi and team note that this was likely because of the effect the strong radiation had on the microglia, or nerve cells found in the brain and spinal chord that are part of the central nervous system’s immune mechanism.
When microglia are activated, they can cause symptoms — such as impaired memory recall — that are consistent with those of neurodegenerative disorders.
This is partly due to the fact that they are driven to destroy synapses, or the connections formed between brain cells that allow them to convey information.
In the new study, Rosi and colleagues collaborated with researchers from Loma Linda University in California to find a therapy that might counteract the effects of radiation on the brain.
They started with a similar experiment on mice, in which they were exposed to a dose of radiation similar to that which might affect a deep space traveler.
After a week, the mice were either given a regular, controlled diet for 15 days, or one that included treatment with an experimental compound called PLX5622.
In comparing the brains of mice from each group, the researchers revealed that those from the control group featured many activated microglia and had lost numerous synapses, while those from the PLX5622 therapy group looked healthy. – Susanna Rosi
However, the researchers are excited not just about this experimental therapy’s potential for space travelers. Drugs tapping into similar mechanisms as PLX5622 are already being tested in clinical trials for the treatment of cancer.
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