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UA gets NASA grant to study health effects of long space flights

(NASA via AP)

PHOENIX — The University of Arizona is taking part in NASA’s efforts to look into health effects of long-term space missions, including a future trip to Mars.

“It’s really the first time that we have a team to study the health of the astronaut in space,” said Frederic Zenhausern, director of the UA Center for Applied Nanobioscience and Medicine (ANBM) in Phoenix.

The ANBM center will get $943,000 over four years which will go toward simulating and researching the effects of space radiation on the human GI tract, or gut.

“If you think about the astronauts going to the international space station, they are only at 200 miles from planet Earth,” he said. “They don’t really have much medical devices in the station to try to do diagnostics or potential treatment because it’s relatively easy to bring them down if they have any problem.”

Now NASA is considering going to Mars or other planets and that could mean a trip for 50 million miles, he said.

UA researchers will be studying how an astronauts’ gut will react to other environments, solar events and/or cosmic radiation.

“Trying to understand in particular if in fact the microbe that you may have in your body maybe also influenced by the exposure to the radiation in the cosmos,” Zenhausern said.

To do this they’re using a Human-Microbial Cross-Talk or “gut on a chip” which will allow scientists to mimic actual conditions and processes in the gut, then predict how the gut will respond.

According to the center the work will allow UA researchers to see how cells from individuals respond to certain drugs or environmental exposure then be able to predict their effects on health, disease onset or even cognitive performance, and study the action of probiotics, nutritional compounds or drugs.

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