Center for Space Medicine

Radiation Research

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Current Radiation Research

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Michael

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Principal Investigator: Michael Weil, Ph.D.

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Research: Effects of chronic high LET radiation on the human heart
Institution: Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado
Project Dates: Oct. 1, 2020 – Sept. 30, 2023

NASA Risk Addressed: Cardiovascular disease and other degenerative tissue effects from radiation exposure and secondary spaceflight stressors (Degen/CVD)

Project: Dr. Weil is designing and commissioning a facility that will expose engineered heart tissue (EHTs) to high linear energy transfer (LET) neutron radiation at low dose rate, nearly continuously, for more than a month. The facility will then be used to irradiate EHTs fabricated using human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs). The irradiated tissues will be screened for a panel of functional outcomes with known clinical relevance. This research is exploring new pathways to improve risk assessments for space radiation induced cardiovascular disease that may lead to methodologies for inflight detection for cardiac damage which, in turn, will inform decisions on whether countermeasures should be administered to individual crew members, and lead to the identification of those countermeasures.

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Gordana

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Principal Investigator: Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, Ph.D.

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Research: Human multi-tissue platform to study effects of space radiation and countermeasures
Institution: Columbia University, New York City, New York
Project Dates: Oct. 1, 2020 – Sept. 30, 2023

NASA Risk Addressed: Adverse cognitive or behavioral conditions, cardiovascular disease and other degenerative tissue effects from radiation exposure and secondary spaceflight stressors (BMed/Degen/CVD)

Project: The exact effects of space radiation that crew will encounter during moon and Mars exploration are still uncertain. Dr. Vunjak-Novakovic is researching the effects and mechanisms of radiation on bone marrow (acute damage target), heart muscle (delayed damage target), liver (depo of granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF)), and vascular perfusion with circulating cells. The team will test countermeasures against acute and fractionated high-linear energy transfer (LET) neutrons, simulated galactic cosmic rays, and photons (controls). The project is expected to deliver a radically new approach enabling studies of space radiation damage and countermeasures.

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Sharon

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Principal Investigator: Sharon Gerecht, Ph.D.

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Research: Using human stem-cell derived vascular, neural and cardiac 3D tissues to determine countermeasures for radiation
Institution: Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland
Project Dates: Oct. 1, 2020 – Sept. 30, 2023

NASA Risk Addressed: Adverse cognitive or behavioral conditions, cardiovascular disease and other degenerative tissue effects from radiation exposure and secondary spaceflight stressors (BMed/Degen/CVD)

Project: Dr. Gerecht will examine 3D human tissue models for their response to radiation, with an eye to the development of countermeasures. Altered protein expression and changes in protein function may lead to genetic and proteomic interventions that target the most radiation affected sites, and signaling pathways might propagate these effects. The team is analyzing responses of three human tissue models to low-dose protracted GCR simulations and identify and develop countermeasures using optogenetics and molecular antagonists. The results will help to determine if complex human models can serve as an effective test bed for the effects of space radiation on intact humans, and will identify and assess possible countermeasures to these effects.

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Sarah

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Principal Investigator: Sarah Blutt, Ph.D.

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Research: Use of Microbial Based Countermeasures to Mitigate Radiation Induced Intestinal Damage
Institution: Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas
Project Dates: Oct. 1, 2020 – Sept. 30, 2022

NASA Risk Addressed: Adverse health effects due to host-microorganism interactions (Microhost)

Project: Very little is known about how exposure to space radiation might affect gastrointestinal health and function. The high turnover rate of the intestinal stem cell (ISC) predicts that the small intestine will be vulnerable to the effects of radiation exposure associated with long duration space flight. Dr. Blutt is researching human intestinal organoid (HIOs) cultures, which provide a new model system to examine the impacts of simulated space radiation on the ISC, identify biomarkers of small intestinal damage and repair following radiation exposure, and explore countermeasures to the damage. The results from this study will provide direct insights into the effects of simulated space radiation on the small intestinal epithelium and elucidate microbial countermeasures that facilitate epithelial renewal.

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Principal Investigator: Mirjana Maletic-Savatic, M.D., Ph.D.

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Research: Counteracting space radiation by targeting neurogenesis in a human brain organoid model
Institution: Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas
Project Dates: Oct. 1, 2020 – Sept. 30, 2022

NASA Risk Addressed: Adverse cognitive or behavioral conditions (BMed)

Project: Neurogenesis, the generation of new neurons throughout life, is essential for formation of new spatial memory and mood control in the hippocampus. However, new neurons are formed from neural stem cells, which are very sensitive to all forms of radiation. If exposed, they die and therefore, neurogenesis declines which also leads to a decline in learning and memory as well as depression. Therefore, understanding this phenomenon in the context of space radiation is of utmost importance if we are to avoid at least some of the cognitive and mental health pathologies during space flight. Dr. Maletic-Savatic will examine neurogenesis in the human brain organoid models exposed to Linear Energy Transfer (LET) proton beam to mimic Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCR). The team will use two complementary cerebral organoid models and will expose them to the proton beam at the MD Anderson Proton Center at different time points and different frequency of exposure to examine molecular, metabolic, cellular, and physiological properties of the variety of cell types that are part of the neurogenic niche. This research focuses on neurogenesis as the only natural mechanism to regenerate lost brain tissue in vivo in the center for learning and memory and mood control.

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Previously Funded Investigations

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David

Item Term
Principal Investigator: David A. Goukassian, M.D., Ph.D.

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Research: Space Flights Associated Changes in Astronauts Plasma Derived miRNA Expression: Biomarker Identification

Institution: Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, N.Y.
Start Date: April 1, 2018 
End Date: April 30, 2021
Study Type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Degen/ CVD/ Late CNS

Project: The objective of this project is to determine whether stress conditions in space environment induce modifications in the exosomal RNA contents and these modifications can be used as preclinical prognostic biomarkers for health and disease. In this project we are using blood samples collected from 16 astronaut 10 days before the launch (L-10) and within 2-3 hours after landing (R-0) and three days after landing. Exosomal cargo from plasma and serum of these samples is being analyzed for space-travel associated alteration in exosomal RNA expression. Dr. Goukassian anticipates that results of this work will – (1) reveal that stress conditions in space environment induce modifications in the exosomal RNA contents and their delivery to target cells/tissues; (2) identify and validate a “unique exosomal cargo” specific to space travel-associated stimuli; (3) identify that modifications in exosomal cargo in astronauts blood can be used as pre-clinical prognostic biomarkers for health and disease this is novel and has never been reported before.

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Lindsey

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Principal Investigator: Lindsey Haggett, Ph.D.

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Research: Mechanisms of protection from radiation by natural proteins

Mentor: Susan Rosenberg, Ph.D. 
Institution: Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas
Start Date: Dec. 1, 2018
End Date: Nov. 30, 2021
Study Type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Degen/ CVD 

Project: During space travel, astronauts are exposed to much higher levels of harmful radiation than they are on Earth. This radiation can increase the risk of developing cancer, immune disorders, and other diseases.  Dr. Haggett is studying radiation-protection proteins in the model organism Escherichia coli to learn how these proteins prevent DNA damage and increase DNA repair after exposure to high levels of radiation.  The results from her proposed research will help identify similar proteins in humans that may be increased to protect astronauts from space radiation.

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Frederico

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Principal Investigator: Frederico Kiffer, Ph.D.

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Research: Effects of Galactic Cosmic Radiation on Translationally-Relevant Cognitive Behaviors and Response to Social Stress

Institution: Children's Hospital of Philadelphia; Philadelphia, PA
Start date: Aug. 13, 2019
End date: July 31, 2021
Grant Mechanism: Postdoc
Study type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Radiation

Project: We will be exposing mice to a Galactic Cosmic Ray simulation (GCR) and examining network-dependent behavioral performance on a highly-translational, appetitive touch-screen platform, including a behavioral test battery that can be viewed as analogous to the tests currently used on astronauts aboard the International Space Station. A separate group of mice will be examined for the influence of GCR on their ability to cope with social and physical stress in a validated mouse model of depression. Finally, we will test a promising anti-inflammatory drug’s ability to prevent GCR-induced deficits in cognition and social defeat stress.

This radiation-centric study will provide a model basis for identifying individuals who are resilient to the extreme spaceflight conditions, validate a measure for monitoring behavioral health, determine radiation dose thresholds for behavioral measures in a domain basis and in combination with social defeat stress, all of which will help inform NASA’s risk models for a manned mission to Mars.

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Eloise

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Principal Investigator: Eloise Pariset, Ph.D.

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Research: Investigation of Blood-based Circulating Biomarkers of Responses to Space Radiation

Institution: NASA ARC
Start date: Nov. 1. 2019
End date: Jan. 31, 2022
Grant Mechanism: Postdoc
Study type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Radiation

Project: Our laboratory aims at understanding the individual variability of human sensitivity to ionizing radiation, for the first time focusing on space-relevant high mass and charge (HZE) particle radiation based on DNA and cellular damage in Peripheral Blood Mononuclear Cells (PBMCs) and genomic associations. We propose to extend this ongoing study by identifying blood-based circulating factors regulating radiation responses in humans, which will provide better understanding of how radiation influences human health to develop countermeasures. We will study radiation-induced damage in human immune cells following exposure to two types of space-relevant radiation (gamma ray and Fe particles), with a focus on expression changes and functional roles of two types of blood-based biomarkers: cytokines (small proteins) and exosomes (extracellular vesicles transporting protein and nucleic acid components), which are both released by cells and participate in inter-cellular communication.

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Chris

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Principal Investigator: Christopher Porada, Ph.D.

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Research: Novel microfluidic biomarker detection platforms to monitor in vivo effects of solar particle events and galactic cosmic rays radiation, using mice with human hematopoietic systems

Institution: Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Winston-Salem, N.C.
Start date: Nov. 1, 2017
End date: Oct. 31, 2021
Grant Mechanism: Program grant
Study type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Risk of Acute (In-flight) and Late Central Nervous System Effects from Radiation Exposure, Risk of Cardiovascular Disease and Other Degenerative Tissue Effects From Radiation Exposure and Secondary Spaceflight Stressors

Project: Excessive amounts of radiation, such as those experienced during space flight, can lead to the development of cancers, particularly leukemia and colon cancer.  To address this, Dr. Porada is developing two model systems—a mouse model with a “humanized” blood system and a chip-based replica of the human gut—to study the effects of radiation exposure on radiation and biomarkers associated with inflammation and stress.  He will use these model systems to also study whether a curcumin (an antioxidant that can protect cells from stress) attached to nanoparticles can protect blood cells and/or gut cells from the harmful effects of radiation.  This research could lead to a protective therapy that astronauts take to prevent radiation-induced cancers.

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Susan

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Principal Investigator: Susan Rosenberg, Ph.D.

Item Definition

Research: Discovery of human radiation-protection genes and pathways

Institution: Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas
Start date: Oct. 1, 2017
End date: Sept. 30, 2021
Grant Mechanism: Single PI grant
Study type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Risk of Acute (In-flight) and Late Central Nervous System Effects from Radiation Exposure, Risk of Cardiovascular Disease and Other Degenerative Tissue Effects From Radiation Exposure and Secondary Spaceflight Stressors

Project: Space travel exposes astronauts to significantly higher levels of space radiation than on Earth, which can increase the risk of developing cancer and other diseases.  Therefore, Dr. Rosenberg is exploring pathways that increase radiation resistance by measuring DNA damage levels and, and proteins that reduce DNA damage levels and mechanisms in Escherichia coli, and in human culture cells. They will identify proteins that protect cells from radiation damage to DNA in E. coli, then test whether their human counterparts act similarly in human cells. This research may identify novel genetic pathways in both bacteria and the human analog, which could hopefully be modified to increase astronauts’ resilience to radiation.

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Micaela

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Principal Investigator: Micaela Cunha, Ph.D.

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Research: A mechanistic framework to assess the efficacy of aspirin and other radioprotectors to reduce carcinogenesis by space radiations.

Mentor: David Brenner, Ph.D.  
Institution: Columbia University, New York, N.Y.
Start Date: Jan. 1, 2018             
End Date: May 31, 2019
Study Type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Space Radiation Exposure (Cancer) 

Project: Astronauts are exposed to a variety of ionizing radiations that present health risks, such as a very likely increased, but not yet quantified, risk of cancer. The nature of the exposure to radiation in space is fundamentally different from that on Earth and so can be the triggered biological responses. By combining mathematical models with quantities that characterize the interaction of different types of radiation with biological tissues at the cellular scale, Dr. Cunha describes data from experiments that evaluate the impact of radioprotective compounds on space-radiation-induced carcinogenesis. The goal is to extract information about the biological mechanisms involved in cancer development in the space radiation environment. This research will provide clues about what biological pathways could be targeted to provide effective protection against space radiation hazards, while paving the way to more accurate predictions of cancer risks for astronauts.

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Don

Item Term
Principal Investigator: Donald Fox, Ph.D.

Item Definition

Research: Mining biology's extremes for new space radiation resistance strategies

Institution: Duke University, Durham, N.C.
Start date: Oct. 1, 2017
End date: Jan. 31, 2020
Grant Mechanism: Single PI grant
Study type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Risk of Acute (In-flight) and Late Central Nervous System Effects from Radiation Exposure, Risk of Cardiovascular Disease and Other Degenerative Tissue Effects From Radiation Exposure and Secondary Spaceflight Stressors

Project: Astronauts are exposed to higher levels of harmful radiation in space than on Earth.  Exposure to radiation can lead to cancer, immune disorders, and other biological complications.  Therefore, it will be imperative to protect crew from the harmful effects of prolonged exposure.  To that end, Dr. Fox is studying two highly radiation resistance model organisms—tardigrades (water bears) and Drosophila fruit flies (hind gut)—to identify unique genes that enhance radiation resistance.

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Jian

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Principal investigator: Jian Gu, Ph.D.

Item Definition

Research: Human-centered Design Augmentation of the Vertical Flow Paper-based Health Monitoring Platform

Institution: University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz.
Start Date: March 1, 2019
End Date: Feb. 29, 2020
TRISH Synergy Project: PI Frederic Zenhausern
Study Type: Ground Study

NASA Risk Addressed: HSID

Problem Addressed: 

Major Aim of Project: To augment the current TRISH VFP project (PI Frederic Zenhausern) through a human-centered design working in microgravity, including sample preparation modules for gene expression based health monitoring, that will be housed inside the CubeLabsfrom Space Tango.

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Steven

Item Term
Principal Investigator: Steven George, Ph.D.

Item Definition

ResearchImpact of Radiation Exposure on a 3D In Vitro Model of Human Bone Marrow

Institution: University of California, Davis
Start date: June 1, 2019
End date: Aug. 31, 2020
Grant Mechanism: Focused Investigation Project (FIP)
Study type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Radiation exposure for astronauts on deep space missions

Project: The project aims to characterize the impact of acute ionizing radiation on the health and function of a human bone marrow using a microphysiological system model of human marrow (“bone marrow-on-a-chip” or BMoaC). The significance of this project is derived from the unique and potentially dangerous levels of ionizing radiation exposure for astronauts on deep space missions, and the highly radio-sensitive features of human bone marrow, in particular the hematopoietic stem cell. Recent reports in simple monolayer culture systems suggest that both the hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) and the supporting stromal cells (e.g., mesenchymal stem cell, MSC) are acutely effected by ionizing radiation that not only disrupts hematopoiesis, but also increases the incidence of leukemias.

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David

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Principal Investigator: David L. Kaplan, Ph.D.

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Research: Silk Composite Biomaterials for Shielding Medications in Space

Institution: Tufts University, Medford, Mass.
Start date: Jan. 1, 2019
End date: Dec. 31, 2020
Grant Mechanism: Single PI grant
Study type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Stability

Project: The medications needed to keep a crew healthy during a deep space exploration mission must remain effective while enduring more than a year in deep space, which includes exposure to space radiation. Medications must be stored in containers that are resilient to such conditions, which is the goal for Dr. Kaplan’s project of using silk protein composite materials to protect these compounds. Silk protein is a US Food and Drug Administration approved biomaterial. Formulations including silk proteins will be used with inorganic particles to shield a variety of drugs from exposure to environmental extremes. The protective ability of the materials and mechanisms will be explored through a combination of testing and molecular modeling.

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Gordana

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Principal Investigator: Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, Ph.D.

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Research: Organs on a Chip' Platform for Assessing Cosmic Radiation Damage

Institution: Columbia University, New York, NY
Start date: June 1, 2019
End date: May 31, 2020
Grant Mechanism: Focused Investigation Project (FIP)
Study type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Degen/ CVD

Project: This project will implement a novel “organs on a chip” platform to investigate the effects, mechanisms, and protective measures related to cosmic radiation. Human tissues will be bioengineered from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), matured, physiologically connected by vascular perfusion containing immune cells, and subjected to space radiation and simulated microgravity, separately or simultaneously.

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Zenhausern/

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Principal Investigator: Frederic Zenhausern, Ph.D.

Item Definition

Research: Development of a Vertical Flow paper-based Platform (VFP) for Monitoring Health Outcomes in Inflight Condition

Institution: University of Arizona College of Medicine, Phoenix, Ariz.
Start Date: May 1, 2018
End Date: April 30, 2019
TRISH Synergy Project: Novel Microfluidic Biomarker Detection Platforms to Monitor In Vivo Effects of Solar Particle Events and Galactic Cosmic Rays Radiation, Using Mice with Human Hematopoietic Systems
Study Type: Ground Study

NASA Risk Addressed: Medical

Problem Addressed: This project will design and characterize a novel Vertical Flow Paper-based Platform (VFP) built within a miniaturized “syringe-like” cartridge that will perform multiplexed detection of bio-agents and up to hundreds of biomarkers in small or large volumes of bodily fluids suitable for diagnosis in long space travel condition. 

Major Aim of Project: This project will study bacterial agents (e.g., gut bacteria or other environmental exposure on the International Space Station-ISS), and also nucleic acid detection in order to develop a hybrid platform able to multiplex different types of biomarkers for enabling the diagnosis of multiple conditions.

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