Treating Space Radiation Exposure With Drugs


RIANovosti has an interesting article regarding the use of tailored drugs to fight radiation exposure in laboratory mice.

From the article:

“In a new study, researchers at Stanford University tested a class of small molecule drugs, known as PHD inhibitors, on mice exposed to toxic amounts of radiation and the drugs protected the animals from radiation-induced gastrointestinal syndrome, which usually leads to death within two weeks.

“What’s really exciting about this work is that not only have they found this countermeasure to mitigate radiation-induced [damage], but the fact that it works in a time window of 24 hours after exposure,” said radiation oncologist David Kirsch of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina.

The team turned to a new compound called DMOG, known to block the PHD proteins and already in clinical trials to treat chronic anemia. Animals that received a dose of DMOG even 24 hours after radiation exposure, survived longer than usual and two-thirds of them were still alive 60 days after exposure.”

Although the article goes on to point out how such drugs could help with sudden intense radiation exposure from nuclear accidents like Chernobyl or Fukushima, there are clear implications for space travel as well.

NASA has a fairly clear understanding of how to protect astronauts from low level, “constant drizzle” solar radiation through spacecraft design, materials and layout.  While anyone making a round trip, (or one-way journey for that matter) to Mars is unavoidably going to have to accept a higher level of radiation exposure than if they had stayed home, the big fear is a massive solar eruption which overwhelms the spacecraft’s ability to provide protection.

Were such an event to take place, NASA has looked at a temporary rearrangements within a hab module which would call for astronauts to re-locate supplies around a built-in “storm shelter” in much the same way sandbags are placed around small arms targets in say,… Eastern Ukraine. But what if it is not enough?

That is where the drugs come in. Developing medications to protect against the worst effects of short term, “acute”  exposure events such as a massive flare would help to overcome one of the more uncontrollable risks of journeys in deep space, giving the crew time to recover and at least have a fighting chance at facing what would now be an even more uncertain future.

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