Current Radiation Research

Principal Investigator: Donald Fox, Ph.D.

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

Institution: Duke University, Durham, N.C.
Start date: Oct. 1, 2017
End date: Sept. 30, 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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Principal Investigator: David A. Goukassian, M.D., Ph.D.

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, 2019
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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Principal investigator: Jian Gu, Ph.D.

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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Principal Investigator: Lindsey Haggett, Ph.D.

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, 2020
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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Principal Investigator: David L. Kaplan, Ph.D.

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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Principal Investigator: Christopher Porada, Ph.D.

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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Principal Investigator: Susan Rosenberg, Ph.D.

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

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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Principal Investigator: Steven George, Ph.D.

Research: Impact 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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Previously Funded Investigations

Principal Investigator: Micaela Cunha, Ph.D.

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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Principal Investigator: Frederic Zenhausern, Ph.D.

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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