The researchers took whole blood samples from the astronauts twice - ten days before the spaceflight and on the day of landing - as well as white blood cells that were only taken once, three days after the landing. landing.  Above: Official portrait of long-term Expedition 45/46 astronaut Scott Kelly

NASA astronauts’ blood shows signs of DNA mutations from spaceflight and they need to be monitored

Astronauts’ blood may show signs of DNA mutations after spaceflight, so their cancer risk should be monitored, a new study reveals.

Fourteen astronauts from NASA’s space shuttle program who flew shuttle missions between 1998 and 2001 averaging 12 days in duration participated in the study: 85% were male and six were on their first mission to the space agency.

The researchers took whole blood samples from the astronauts twice – ten days before the spaceflight and on the day of landing – as well as white blood cells that were only taken once, three days after the landing. landing. These samples were placed in a freezer at minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit and left untouched for 20 years.

“Astronauts work in an extreme environment where many factors can lead to somatic mutations, the most important of which is space radiation, which means there is a risk that these mutations will turn into clonal hematopoiesis,” said the lead author. of the study, David Goukassian, professor of cardiology at the Cardiovascular Research Institute at Icahn Mount Sinai in New York, in a statement.

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The researchers took whole blood samples from the astronauts twice – ten days before the spaceflight and on the day of landing – as well as white blood cells that were only taken once, three days after the landing. landing. Above: Official portrait of long-term Expedition 45/46 astronaut Scott Kelly

“Given the growing interest in commercial spaceflight and deep space exploration, and the potential health risks associated with exposure to various harmful factors associated with repeated space missions of exploration or long-term, like a trip to Mars, we decided to explore, retrospectively, a somatic mutation,” Goukassian explained.

“Given the growing interest in commercial spaceflight and deep space exploration, and the potential health risks associated with exposure to various harmful factors associated with repeated space missions of exploration or long-term, like a trip to Mars, we decided to explore, retrospectively, somatic mutation,” Goukassian explained.

Somatic mutations are those that occur after a person is conceived and in cells other than sperm or egg, meaning they cannot be passed on to future generations.

The mutations identified in the study were characterized by the overrepresentation of blood cells from a single clone, a process called clonal hematopoiesis. Various blood cancers, including chronic myeloid leukemia, are examples of clonal hematopoiesis.

The scientists used DNA sequencing along with bioinformatics analysis to identify 34 mutations in 17 CH driver genes.

The mutations identified in the study were characterized by the overrepresentation of blood cells from a single clone, a process called clonal hematopoiesis.  Various blood cancers including chronic myeloid leukemia are examples are clonal hematopoiesis

The mutations identified in the study were characterized by the overrepresentation of blood cells from a single clone, a process called clonal hematopoiesis. Various blood cancers including chronic myeloid leukemia are examples are clonal hematopoiesis

“The presence of these mutations does not necessarily mean that astronauts will develop cardiovascular disease or cancer, but there is a risk that over time this may occur due to continued and prolonged exposure to the extreme environment. deep space,” Goukassian added.

The most common mutations occurred in TP3, a gene that produces a tumor suppressor protein, and DNMT3A, one of the most frequently mutated genes in acute myeloid leukemia.

Although the mutations were high for the age of the astronauts, the researchers said they were still below a concerning threshold.

“The presence of these mutations does not necessarily mean that astronauts will develop cardiovascular disease or cancer, but there is a risk that over time this may occur due to continued and prolonged exposure to the extreme environment. deep space,” Goukassian added.

As NASA ramps up its long-delayed Artemis program to put American boots on the lunar surface for the first time in 50 years, these kinds of health observations for astronauts will be key to future success in spaceflight to the moon, Mars and beyond.

As NASA ramps up its long-delayed Artemis program to put American boots on the lunar surface for the first time in 50 years, these kinds of health observations for astronauts will be key to future spaceflight success.

As NASA ramps up its long-delayed Artemis program to put American boots on the lunar surface for the first time in 50 years, these kinds of health observations for astronauts will be key to future spaceflight success.

The researchers demonstrated that they could conduct this type of study to examine astronauts’ susceptibility to disease without affecting their ability to work. The study was published Aug. 31 in Nature Communications Biology.

They recommend that NASA and its medical team screen astronauts for somatic mutations and possible clonal expansion, or regression, every three to five years, as well as well into their retirement years – when these types of mutations can potentially develop. .

“What is important now is to conduct well-controlled, retrospective, longitudinal prospective studies involving large numbers of astronauts to see how this risk changes with continued exposure, and then compare this data to their clinical symptoms. , imaging and lab results,” Goukassian said.

“This will allow us to make informed predictions about which individuals are most likely to develop disease based on the phenomena we observe and open the door to individualized precision medicine approaches for early intervention and prevention.”

This work comes two months after a study showed that astronauts who participate in spaceflight longer than three months may show signs of incomplete bone recovery even after a full year on Earth.

“The detrimental effect of spaceflight on skeletal tissue can be profound,” said the study’s opening line.

“We found that weight-bearing bones have only partially recovered in most astronauts one year after spaceflight,” said Leigh Gabel, assistant professor of kinesiology and lead author of the study, in a statement.

“This suggests that the permanent bone loss due to spaceflight is roughly equivalent to a decade of age-related bone loss on Earth.”

This study began in 2017 and followed 17 astronauts before and after spaceflight over seven years to determine how bone does or does not recover after longer spaceflights.

The researchers traveled to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and scanned the astronauts’ wrists and ankles before they departed for space.

One year after returning from long-duration spaceflight, most astronauts demonstrated incomplete recovery of bone density, strength, and trabecular thickness at the weight-bearing distal tibia.

NASA astronauts’ blood shows signs of DNA mutations from spaceflight and they need to be monitored

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