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URMC Researcher Gets NASA Grant To Look At Impact Of Deep Space Radiation


A researcher at the University of Rochester will be working on a study for NASA that looks at some of the physical challenges to astronauts that are posed by the exploration of deep space.

We may not be at the point yet where we can send astronauts to other planets, like actor Matt Damon does in the movie The Martian, but according to a local scientist, just getting there could be fraught with its own set of problems.

Kerry O'Banion, who is a professor at at the U of R Medical Center in neurobiology and anatomy, has been awarded a $1.8 million grant from NASA to study whether extended deep space travel places astronauts at risk for neuro-degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's.

He'll be looking at the impact of cosmic radiation on brain function. O'Banion says the type of space travel that astronauts do now, mainly in Earth orbit, probably doesn't have the same risk of exposure from that radiation.

“For people who we have in space now, in the space station and people who are in orbit and so forth , the relative amount of exposure is fairly modest compared to what happens when you get out into deep space.”

O'Banion will be studying the effect it has on mice with the help of a NASA laboratory on Long Island.

“It’s essentially tapping into the resources of Brookhaven that provide a particle accelerator to create the unique types of ions that are found in deep space.”

The researchers will also investigate whether a drug that reduces brain inflammation can counteract the effects of space radiation.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.