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Gene Therapy Could Be Key To Survival Of Astronauts In Deep Space Mission To Mars

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Radiation is one of the major problems in space travel. Astronauts receive high doses of radiation beyond Earth's magnetic field and atmosphere, and it could elevate their risk of developing deadly cancer.

Radiation In Space

Animal studies have shown that mice bombarded with radiation that mimics the high-energy cosmic radiation rays in space affected the animals' brain. Scientists also say that the heart, nervous system, and digestive system are at risk of damage as a result of exposure to cosmic radiation.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who has spent 520 days in space, already has a lifetime radiation dose of 239.6 mSv. In comparison, an X-ray at the dentist will expose a patient to about 8 mSv dose of radiation.

"The space radiation environment will be a critical consideration for everything in the astronauts' daily lives, both on the journeys between Earth and Mars and on the surface," said Ruthan Lewis, from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Surviving Exposure To High Dose Radiation

In a paper published in Oncotarget, researchers proposed ideas that can help astronauts survive exposure to high-level radiation in a deep space mission. These may even get humans to Mars sans the deadly effects of exposure during the course of three-year space travel to the Red Planet.

Franco Cortese of the Biogerontology Research Foundation and colleagues suggested building upon knowledge learned in the study of longevity.The idea is to make human cells radioresistant through gene therapy and personalized drugs.

"We conclude by presenting the known associations between radioresistance and longevity, and articulating the position that enhancing human radioresistance is likely to extend the healthspan of human spacefarers as well," Cortese and colleagues wrote.

Fortifying Genes To Resist Radiation

Artificial intelligence can help identify which cells in the body are more resistant to radiation, and it would allow researchers to fortify them using gene therapy.

David Sinclair of University of New South Wales School of Medical Sciences and colleagues have already conducted studies that may lead to the development of a drug that can improve DNA's ability to repair itself and reverse aging.

"We are working with Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to find new genes that protect DNA and introducing new genes such as Dsup," said Sinclair.

Sinclair said that some species, which include tardigrades, are known to be radiation-resistant. Introducing protective genes from other species offer the possibility of boosting DNA repair and prevent DNA damage.

A 2016 study showed that human cells infused with tardigrade genes were able to suppress x-ray damage by about 40 percent. Sinclair and colleagues have already started human trials to determine if a DNA precursor can prevent DNA damage from exposure to radiation.

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