A drug may prevent astronauts traveling into deep space from suffering memory loss, which is one of the effects of cosmic radiation exposure.
With NASA and private space companies such as SpaceX looking to send humans to Mars, protecting the crews of future missions from harmful cosmic radiation effects will be a necessity. Fortunately, there is already a method available to prevent memory loss among space travelers.
Astronauts Memory Loss In Deep Space Missions
Missions to Mars, the moon, or any other point in deep space present certain issues related to long-term space travel. This is because once astronauts escape the magnetic field of Earth, they are exposed to cosmic radiation that is 1,000 times higher compared to what they experience on the planet, or on the International Space Station, which is hovering at low-Earth orbit.
Memory loss is one of the effects of cosmic radiation on astronauts. The radiation affects the immune system cells of the human brain, resulting in inflammation that may impair an astronaut's memory functions, similar to the dreaded Alzheimer's disease.
It is easy to imagine how memory loss will play a part in the failure of a mission, so this will be something that will need to be addressed before deep space ventures start becoming a reality.
Drug Prevents Memory Loss From Cosmic Radiation
Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco have identified PLX5622, a drug created by pharmaceutical company Plexxikon, as the potential solution to memory loss from cosmic radiation.
Tests on mice that have been previously exposed to simulated space radiation revealed that the drug forces the brain to replace the irradiated immune system cells with healthy ones. This prevents the inflammation that results in damaged memory abilities.
More importantly, however, is that the effects of the drug are long-lasting. The mice that were not given treatment still showed memory issues three months after the exposure to the radiation, but the mice that received PLX5622 were healthy. This is important because of the length of time that astronauts will spend in missions to deep space.
Compounds that are similar to PLX5622 are already being used for cancer treatment trials, so it will not take long before a version of the drug is fully adapted to be used by astronauts.
The drug's applications may go beyond preventing memory loss caused by cosmic radiation though. It could also help prevent memory impairment after radiation therapy to fight cancer, as well as reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.