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Deep-space travel could create heart woes for astronauts
Date:4/7/2011

Astronauts anticipate more trips to the moon and manned missions to Mars. But exposure to cosmic radiation outside the Earth's magnetic field could be detrimental to their arteries, according to a study by University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers published April 6, 2011, online in the journal Radiation Research.

Using an animal model, researchers assessed the affect of iron ion radiation commonly found in outer space to see if exposures promoted the development of atherosclerosis, as terrestrial sources of radiation are known to do. They observed that cosmic radiation accelerated the development of atherosclerosis, independent of the cholesterol levels or circulating white blood cells of the mice. It also worsened existing atherosclerotic lesions.

"It's well known that prolonged exposure to radiation sources here on Earth, including those used in cancer treatment, excessive occupational exposure and atomic bombs, are associated with an increased risk for atherosclerosis," said Dennis Kucik, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the UAB Department of Pathology. "But cosmic radiation is very different from X-rays and other radiation found on Earth. The radiation risks of deep-space travel are difficult to predict, largely because so few people have been exposed."

Accelerated ions in cosmic radiation interact differently with objects and people, Kucik said.

X-rays can be blocked by lead shields; however, cosmic radiation ions can become more dangerous when they interact with metals, generating secondary particles that also may have biological effects. Although it is possible to use other materials to shield against ion radiation, incorporating these into spacesuits presents significant challenges.

The only people who have been exposed to high levels of cosmic radiation are the 24 astronauts who have been to the moon as part of NASA's Apollo missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Kucik said because many
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Contact: Jennifer Lollar
jpark@uab.edu
205-934-3888
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Source:Eurekalert

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