While most of the stories on this website revolve around research on brain injury on Earth, I thought this story about brains in outer space, which has been in the news a lot lately, was interesting. Yes, this new research about what is being called space brain has been in major news outlets, such as Yahoo, Popular Science, and the LA Times. Even though no men have been on Mars yet, researchers are planning ahead, as the first manned mission to Mars is scheduled for the 2030s. This research is deepening our understanding of what a mission to Mars might mean.
The study that has been making headlines involved exposing rodents to cosmic radiation and the resulting brain damage. The brains of these rodents experienced physical damage that included modification of neurons and break down of synapses that could transfer neurotransmitters between neurons. The physical damage is linked to cognitive and behavioral problems, such as memory problems, anxiety, and impaired judgement, which can be problematic for astronauts operating autonomously in space.
In addition to the initial physical damage, the researchers found that the brains were not returning back to normal after six months. The brains were staying the same: damaged. No evidence of the brain trying to resolve these issues was seen. Therefore, the damage could be permanent.
Even though the research was in rodents, the scientists believe that it applies to humans, too. Knowing this will likely not prevent the mission to Mars. More than likely, scientists will try to find ways to curtail this physical brain damage. This may be done through creating a protective shield or figuring out a combination of drugs that would protect against this kind of damage.
One of the scientists, Charles Limoli, told Popular Science that “this is not a deal breaker. I do not think that during the course of a trip to Mars and back the astronauts will come back with anything remotely similar to full-blown Alzheimer’s.
“But more mild changes, more subtle changes—they would still be concerning, given the level of autonomy astronauts operate under and the amount of work they have to do.”
Subtle brain damage may not be a stranger to some of our readers, see our website http://subtlebraininjury.com/.
In the future, researchers will have to develop ways to protect our astronauts from brain damage. Protecting against the memory loss, anxiety, and judgement impairment will be essential. These kinds of problems could be roadblocks to the problem solving necessary in space, which is why it’s good we know now, and can find ways to prevent it.