ROCHESTER, N.Y. (CBS Houston) – Future astronauts expected to make long-term trips to Mars may be facing an increased probability of taking on symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease that could affect their memories.
A new study from the University of Rochester Medical Center has found that NASA crew members who will be constantly exposed to large amounts of radiation will suffer from a more rapid degeneration of brain function, potentially leading to Alzheimer’s disease.
“Galactic cosmic radiation poses a significant threat to future astronauts,” M. Kerry O’Banion, a professor in the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy and the senior author of the study, said in a news release. “The possibility that radiation exposure in space may give rise to health problems such as cancer has long been recognized. However, this study shows for the first time 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.”
Part of the research involved exposing lab mice to spiked levels of radiation and measuring their cognitive ability following the exposure. With the constant interaction between the mice and the high-energy particles, researchers found that the mice failed cognitive tasks more regularly, showing accumulations of protein plaque that is also associated with Alzheimer’s in humans.
“These findings clearly suggest that exposure to radiation in space has the potential to accelerate the development of Alzheimer’s disease,” O’Banion said. “This is yet another factor that NASA, which is clearly concerned about the health risks to its astronauts, will need to take into account as it plans future missions.”
The findings come 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.
The study was recently published in PLOS ONE.