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  (Source: ioeworldwide.com)
Radiation called high-mass, high-charged particles (HZE) are capable of penetrating a spacecraft and causing the early onset of Alzheimer's disease

A new study shows that extended exposure to cosmic radiation in space can negatively affect astronauts' brains.

A team of researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center, led by M. Kerry O'Banion, found that a specific type of radiation called high-mass, high-charged particles (HZE) are capable of penetrating a spacecraft and causing the early onset of Alzheimer's disease.

NASA and other researchers have studied the effects of long-term space travel on astronauts for years, and found that galactic cosmic radiation caused cancer, musculoskeletal and cardiovascular diseases. However, this is the first study to show effects on the brain in regards to neurodegeneration.

HZE particles are propelled through space at very high speeds thanks to exploding stars, and come in a variety of forms. In this particular study, the researchers looked at iron particles because they, like HZE particles, have a mass and speed that allow them to enter solid objects.

The researchers then used particle accelerators to reproduce radioactive particles located in space. From there, animal models with Alzheimer's disease were exposed to different doses of the radiation. They even used levels comparable to a mission to Mars.

According to the results, the brains of the mice exposed to the radiation had vascular alterations and an abnormal accumulation of beta amyloid, which is a sign of Alzheimer's disease.

Also, the mice exposed to radiation were more likely to fail memory tests more often and earlier than mice who were not.

"Galactic cosmic radiation poses a significant threat to future astronauts," said O'Banion. "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."

Source: Science Daily





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