Unseen Risk


The wonders of space travel captivate many astronauts. They see the stars, the moon, and the Earth, but what they don’t see is the radiation they are exposed to in space.

Radiation exposure in space can occur from high energy charged particles (HZE), which damage DNA, but no epidemiological data for human exposure to HZE particles exist. Now Emory and Medical College of Georgia (MCG) researchers are teaming up to study how this radiation type may induce lung cancer in astronauts.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration recently awarded the researchers a $7.6 million grant to establish a NASA Specialized Center of Research (NScOR).

Emory’s NScOR will study how the body’s stress response to HZE particles increases the risk of cancer. While there is no data on HZE exposure to people, some estimates have been made from studies of uranium miners and Japanese atomic bomb survivors, says Ya Wang, director of the NScOR at Emory. Animal experiments show that HZE particles induce more tumors than other forms of radiation. Since lung cancer is a leading form of cancer, astronauts are expected to be at greater risk than the general public. 

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Emory Medicine Winter 2011