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Astronauts may experience serious gut damage from deep space travel

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A new study reveals that astronauts may suffer serious gastrointestinal damage during deep space travel. The findings are based on animal model simulations that look at the effects of galactic cosmic radiation exposure on GI tissue. The damage may result in long-term issues, including an increased risk of tumor growth, the latest of a growing body of research hinting at major health issues related to space travel.

The research comes out of Georgetown University, where researchers found that deep space travel — the kind astronauts would experience when traveling to Mars and other distant planets — could have a major, long-term impact on health.

When exposed to the type of radiation that astronauts will face in space, lab mice were found to have damaged intestinal cells that could no longer adequately absorb nutrients. As well, the exposed mice developed cancer in the form of intestinal polyps and may have suffered DNA damage.

The DNA damage resulted in a greater number of senescent cells, which don’t experience normal cell division. These cells produce inflammatory molecules and oxidative stress, according to researchers, both of which increase the amount of damage. It becomes more difficult for new intestinal cells to migrate and replace old cells, driving the cancer risk.

The researchers found the effects to likely be permanent, and it’s possible similar effects may be experienced by other organs in the body. This joins past research that found potential increased aging and brain issues resulting from deep space travel.

SOURCE: Georgetown University

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