NASA Astronauts Suffer ‘Unusually High’ Mutations in Their DNA and Increased Cancer Risks
A study confirmed that astronauts from the POT suffer “unusually high” mutations in their DNA and increased risk of cancer after space travel. The research covered 20-year-old samples from 14 people and was published in Nature Communications Biology.
The main takeaway is that astronauts’ cancer risk needs careful monitoring, though a 2019 study notes that they don’t die of that space radiation sickness.
The 14 astronauts were in the space shuttle program from NASA. Although their mutations are unusually high for people’s ages, “they were below a key threshold of concern,” the researchers noted.
The flight subjects examined by Goukassian and his team were astronauts who flew relatively short space shuttle missions (average 12 days) between 1998 and 2001. The average age was 42, 85% were men, and six of the 14 were on their first mission.
Commercial flights motivated the researchers to conduct the study
The team was led by Dr. David Goukassian, professor of cardiology at Mount Sinai.
“Astronauts work in an extreme environment where many factors can give rise to somatic mutations, especially space radiation, which means there is a risk that these mutations will lead to clonal hematopoiesis,” Goukassian said.
“Given the growing interest in both commercial spaceflight as in deep space exploration, and the potential health risks of exposure to various deleterious factors associated with repeated or long-duration space exploration missions, such as a trip to Mars, we decided to explore, retrospectively, somatic mutation in the cohort of 14 astronauts.
NASA’s Artemis Program seeks, with the Artemis I Mission, to assess the effects of space radiation. For this they will send to the orbit of the Moon to three mannequins with sensors.
This is how the study was developed with the blood of NASA astronauts, which determined the mutations
The researchers collected whole blood samples from the astronauts 10 days before their flight and on the day of landing, and white blood cells just three days after landing. The samples were stored at -80 °C for approximately 20 years.
Thirty-four mutations in 17 CH driver genes were identified. The most frequent mutations occurred in TP53, a gene that produces a tumor suppressor protein, and DNMT3A, one of the most frequently mutated genes in acute myeloid leukemia.
However, the frequency of somatic mutations in the genes was less than 2%, the technical threshold for somatic mutations in hematopoietic stem cells to be considered clonal hematopoiesis of indeterminate potential (CHIP).
This is more common in older people and it is associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and hematological and solid cancer.
The main recommendation of the researchers is that astronauts undergo constant monitoring, careful control against cancer and heart disease.