Mars Astronauts Could Be At Risk Of Alzheimer's From Space Radiation

Among the many existing reasons not to go into space - loneliness, aliens, inevitable to-the-death battles with intelligent computers - you can now add Alzheimer's.

According to a study released this week, that's one of the side effects that travellers to Mars or other bodies would potentially experience as a result of the massive doses of radiation in space.

Unless protected by high-tech and powerful shields, high-energy particles could pose "a significant threat" to long-distance astronauts, the paper reports.

The risk of cancer from such radiation is already known about, but now scientists think there would also be an increased risk of late degenerative disorders, including Alzheimers - and that's not so understood.

The new paper showed that, at least in mice, similar types of radiation as that found in deep space led to increases of "Aβ plaque pathology " - changes in the brain which could lead to Alzheimer's.

The research by the University of Rochester Medical Center Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy used particle accelerators at Nasa's Space Radiation Laboratory to expose the animals to the highly radioactive particles.

"These findings clearly suggest that exposure to radiation in space has the potential to accelerate the development of Alzheimer's disease," said the study's author Dr. M. Kerry O'Banion.

It's not quite a reason to abandon space travel, but it could be evidence that we'll need more than a big rocket (and a big Christmas tree) to get somebody to another planet alive any time soon.

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