Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Are astronauts at risk for lung cancer?

NASA photo

Researchers from Emory's Winship Cancer Institute and the Medical College of Georgia are launching a new cancer research initiative – into space.

NASA awarded a team of investigators from both institutions $7.6 million to study how space radiation may induce lung cancer. The award establishes a NASA Specialized Center of Research (NSCOR), consisting of a team of scientists with complementary skills.

Interplanetary space travel could expose astronauts to conditions where they are chronically exposed to types of radiation not normally encountered on earth. One of these is high energy charged particles (HZE), which results in complex damage to DNA and a broader stress response by the affected cells and tissues.

There is no epidemiological data for human exposure to HZE particles, although some estimates have been made studying uranium miners and Japanese atomic bomb survivors, says Ya Wang, a radiation oncologist and director of the NSCOR at Emory.

Animal experiments show that HZE particle exposure induces more tumors than other forms of radiation such as X-rays or gamma rays. Because it is a leading form of cancer, lung cancer can be expected to be prominent among increased risks from radiation even though astronauts do not smoke. However, the risk for astronauts remains unclear because the dose of HZE astronauts are expected to receive is very low, Wang says.

Read more in this Winship news release.

Scientist tackles ethics of space travel

1 comment:

  1. Makes sense when you consider that astronauts are classified as radiation workers.