Published: Thu, October 04, 2018
Science | By

Cosmic rays damage your GI tract

Cosmic rays damage your GI tract

Radiation exposure on a trip to Mars or beyond could significantly damage astronauts' stomachs and intestines, according to the findings.

Life on Earth is protected from energetic heavy ions by the planet's magnetic field, which deflects them away. Astronauts who will be traveling toward the surface of Mars are at risk of developing stomach or colon cancer.

The US space agency said it plans to send astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972 as the initial stage for a future trip to Mars - part of an official US policy set by President Donald Trump.

The study compared mice exposed to heavy iron ions, others exposed to gamma rays, and a third group that was not subjected to any form of radiation. Think of those blankets that doctors use to shield patients from X-rays - there is no equivalent technology to protect astronauts in space.

Intestinal cells from the heavy ion mice failed to absorb nutrients adequately and formed cancerous polyps.

In addition, the researchers also found an evidence that iron radiation also triggers the increase in the number of senescent cells.

"Heavy ions such as iron and silicon are damaging due to their greater mass compared to no-mass photons such as X-rays and gamma-rays prevalent on earth as well as low mass protons in outer space", said Kamal Datta, an associate professor at the NASA Specialised Center of Research (NSCOR).

"This greatly affected migration of cells that are needed to replace the intestinal lining which slowed down GI functioning".

"We have documented the effects of deep space radiation on some vital organs, but we believe that similar damage responses may occur in many (other) organs", Datta said. Cells in the human GI tract are constantly supposed to renew themselves, with the mucosal layer on top regenerating every several days.

Study co-author Dr Albert Fornace said: "Any disturbance of this replacement mechanism leads to malfunctioning of physiologic processes such as nutrient absorption and starts pathologic processes such as cancer".

In the study, Datta's team exposed mice to a low dose of iron radiation at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory (NSRL) in Brookhaven National Laboratory in NY.

The findings were published October 1 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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