Cosmic rays in space could result in Alzheimer’s disease in astronauts

Scientists have found that the cosmic rays, i.e. a flow of high-energy radiation from space, could increase the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, which is a degenerative disorder that affects the brain causing dementia especially in the later stages of life.

Although space is full of radiations but Earth’s magnetic field protects us from such radiations. In space they could result in significant problems.

“Galactic cosmic radiation poses a significant threat to future astronauts,” M. Kerry O’Banion, M.D., Ph.D., 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 statement. O’Banion and the team members studied the effect of a particular form of radiation called high-mass, high-charged (HZE) particles, which come in many different forms.


“The possibility that radiation exposure in space may give rise to health problems such as cancer, has long been recognized.” He added.

This is the first study to show that cancer is not the only problem that would be caused by cognitive disabilities could be resulted.

“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.” O’Banion said.

According to researchers, astronauts are protected from dangerous radiation but all forms of cosmic radiations could not be effectively blocked and the more the astronauts stay in space, the more they will be exposed.

Researchers worked on the iron particles. They found that the mass of HZE particles like iron and their speed helped them to penetrate the solid objects such as the protective shielding of a spacecraft.

“Because iron particles pack a bigger wallop it is extremely difficult from an engineering perspective to effectively shield against them,” said O’Banion. “One would have to essentially wrap a spacecraft in a six-foot block of lead or concrete.”

Researchers worked on mice and exposed them to different doses of radiations and found that the mice failed in tasks of recalling objects or specific locations.

“These findings clearly suggest that exposure to radiation in space has the potential to accelerate the development of Alzheimer’s disease,” said O’Banion. “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.”

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