Flight to Mars: how space radiation affects the brain

© AP PhotoЭкспедиция on other planets is not far offFlight to Mars: how space radiation affects the brain© AP Photo

The crew of the ship, plowing through deep space, the danger of losing long-term memory — such conclusion was made by scientists from Moscow, Pushchino, analyzing the results of experiments on mice irradiated by accelerated heavy-ion beam.

«The prospect of flying to the moon and Mars put before the work is meant a number of serious problems which are still not resolved. In the interplanetary expedition crew will be exposed to galactic radiation is dominated by high energy particles. It is predicted that people will get for flight time in General small and medium-sized doses. But how will they affect cognitive functions which genetic risk is and what are the long term effects? These are the questions we are going to respond,» says RIA Novosti, Olga Rozanova, senior researcher of laboratory of cell engineering, Institute of theoretical and experimental Biophysics RAS (ITEB), where three decades studied the effects of the Chernobyl accident.

To simulate the conditions of deep space, scientists allow the accelerators of elementary particles, dispersing the electrons, alpha-particles, protons, and heavy ions (e.g., positively charged nuclei of carbon and iron) to sublight speeds. It is from these particles consist mainly of the solar wind and cosmic rays that threaten astronauts outside the Earth’s magnetosphere. And the hardest cells are high-energy nuclei of carbon and iron, passing a lot of energy to the tissues of the body, mechanical slitting genes in several places, after which they do not have time to recover.

When, in 2013, scientists from the Institute of high energy physics, NRC «Kurchatov Institute» in Protvino managed to get a beam of carbon nuclei with energy of 450 MeV per nucleon, this immediately took advantage biologists from ITEB for their radiobiological experiments. For three years they were irradiated at the accelerator hundreds of laboratory mice and carried out many tests to find out the effect on DNA of bone marrow cells and blood, antioxidant, and immune system, the brain and memory of animals, a beam of carbon nuclei with different modes. Also calculated the parameters of biological efficiency of this type of radiation compared with x-ray.

For experiments took in the vivarium of young male mice. They were drugged and placed in a special container under an accelerated beam so that the whole body of the animal was at the peak of the Bragg — maximum energy transfer, the particles were irradiated with a dose of not more than 0.7 gray. And after two months began to observe what effect this has had.

«What to do with the destruction of the brain by cosmic rays is unclear. You need to look for protective equipment is an effective neuroprotectant because existing drugs protect the brain from gamma radiation, but is often powerless against protons and carbon nuclei because of the specificity of action of heavy particles,» — says the researcher.

Long and in many respects pioneering experiment has shown, in what direction should conduct a further study. Of course, this is only the beginning of exploring how space will affect the pioneers. Biologists have more time to solve the problem of biological protection of crew from cosmic radiation — at least until the 2030-ies, when the planned manned expedition to the moon.