A new study on mice, published this week in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, suggests that exposure to radiation in space could accelerate the development of Alzheimer's disease in Mars astronauts, Space.com reported.
In the eight-year study, scientists exposed healthy mice that were genetically engineered to be predisposed to Alzheimer's disease to high-mass, high-charged particles found in space, ABC News reported.
"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," study author Kerry O'Banion, a neuroscientist at the University of Rochester Medical Center, said in a statement, according to Space.com.
According to Space.com:
The longer an astronaut is in deep space, the greater the risk, which is especially of concern given NASA plans for manned missions to an asteroid in 2025 and to Mars by about 2035 — the round trip to the Red Planet alone could take at least two years.
While on Earth, the planet’s atmosphere and magnetic field protect humans from low-level cosmic radiation, ABC News reported. Unfortunately, once astronauts leave Earth’s orbit, it is difficult to insulate them against radioactive particles in space, which are similar to what’s in the fallout from a nuclear accident.
"It is extremely difficult from an engineering perspective to effectively shield against them," O'Banion told ABC News. "One would have to essentially wrap a spacecraft in a six-foot block of lead or concrete."
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