Blood of NASA astronauts shows signs of DNA mutations due to spaceflight and should be monitored

The researchers collected whole blood samples from the astronauts twice, ten days before the space flight and on the day of landing, as well as white blood cells that were collected only once, three days after landing.  Above: Official portrait of Expedition 45/46 long-duration astronaut Scott Kelly

Astronauts’ blood may show signs of DNA mutations after spaceflight, and so their cancer risk should be monitored, a new study reveals.

Fourteen astronauts from NASA’s space shuttle program who flew between 1998 and 2001 on shuttle missions averaging 12 days took part in the study: 85% were men and six were on their first mission for the space agency

The researchers collected whole blood samples from the astronauts twice, ten days before the space flight and on the day of landing, as well as white blood cells that were collected only once, three days after landing. These samples were placed in a freezer at minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit and were not touched for 20 years.

“Astronauts work in an extreme environment where many factors can cause somatic mutations, especially space radiation, which means there is a risk that these mutations can turn into clonal hematopoiesis,” said the study’s lead author , David Goukassian, professor of cardiology with the Cardiovascular Research Institute at Icahn Mount Sinai in New York, said in a statement.

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The researchers collected whole blood samples from the astronauts twice, ten days before the space flight and on the day of landing, as well as white blood cells that were collected only once, three days after landing. Above: Official portrait of Expedition 45/46 long-duration astronaut Scott Kelly

“Given the growing interest in both commercial spaceflight and deep space exploration, and the potential health risks of exposure to various harmful factors associated with repeated or long-duration space exploration missions , such as a trip to Mars, we decided to explore, retrospectively, somatic mutation,” explained Goukassian

“Given the growing interest in both commercial spaceflight and deep space exploration, and the potential health risks of exposure to various harmful factors associated with repeated or long-duration space exploration missions , such as a trip to Mars, we decided to explore, retrospectively, somatic mutation,” explained Goukassian.

Somatic mutations are those that occur after a person is conceived and in cells other than sperm or eggs, meaning they cannot be passed on to future generations.

The mutations identified in the study were characterized by the overrepresentation of blood cells derived from a single clone, a process called clonal hematopoiesis. Different blood cancers, including chronic myeloid leukemia, are examples of clonal hematopoiesis.

The scientists used DNA sequencing and bioinformatics analysis to identify 34 mutations in 17 CH driver genes.

The mutations identified in the study were characterized by the overrepresentation of blood cells derived from a single clone, a process called clonal hematopoiesis.  Different blood cancers, including chronic myeloid leukemia, are examples of clonal hematopoiesis.

The mutations identified in the study were characterized by the overrepresentation of blood cells derived from a single clone, a process called clonal hematopoiesis. Different blood cancers, including chronic myeloid leukemia, are examples of clonal hematopoiesis.

“The presence of these mutations does not necessarily mean that astronauts will develop cardiovascular disease or cancer, but there is a risk that, over time, this could happen through continued and prolonged exposure to the extreme environment of deep space.” , Goukassian added.

The most frequent mutations occurred in TP3, a gene that produces a tumor suppressor protein, and DNMT3A, one of the most frequently mutated genes in acute myeloid leukemia.

Although the mutations were high for the age of the astronauts, the researchers said it was still below a worrisome threshold.

“The presence of these mutations does not necessarily mean that astronauts will develop cardiovascular disease or cancer, but there is a risk that, over time, this could happen through continued and prolonged exposure to the extreme environment of deep space.” , Goukassian added.

As NASA ramps up its long-delayed Artemis program to put American boots on the lunar surface for the first time in 50 years, these kinds of health observations for astronauts will be key to the future success of spaceflight to the Moon, Mars and beyond. .

As NASA ramps up its long-delayed Artemis program to put American boots on the lunar surface for the first time in 50 years, these kinds of health observations for astronauts will be key to the future success of spaceflight .

As NASA ramps up its long-delayed Artemis program to put American boots on the lunar surface for the first time in 50 years, these kinds of health observations for astronauts will be key to the future success of spaceflight .

The researchers demonstrated that they can conduct this type of study to examine astronauts’ susceptibility to disease without affecting their ability to work. The study was published Aug. 31 in Nature Communications Biology.

They recommend that NASA and its medical team screen astronauts for somatic mutations and possible clonal expansion, or regression, every three to five years, and also until their retirement years, when these types of mutations can expand.

“What is important now is to conduct well-controlled, prospective, retrospective studies involving large numbers of astronauts to see how this risk evolves as a function of continued exposure and then compare this data with their clinical symptoms, imaging and lab results,” he said. Goukassian.

“This will allow us to make informed predictions about which people are most likely to develop disease based on the phenomena we’re seeing and open the door to individualized precision medicine approaches to early intervention and prevention.”

This work comes two months after a study showed that astronauts participating in space flights of more than three months can show signs of incomplete bone recovery even after a full year on Earth.

“The deleterious effect of spaceflight on skeletal tissue can be profound,” stated the opening line of the study.

“We found that weight-bearing bones were only partially recovered in most astronauts one year after spaceflight,” Leigh Gabel, assistant professor of kinesiology and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

“This suggests that permanent bone loss due to spaceflight is about the same as a decade of age-related bone loss on Earth.”

This study began in 2017 and followed 17 astronauts before and after spaceflight for seven years to determine how bone recovers or fails to recover after longer spaceflights.

The researchers went to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas and scanned the wrists and ankles of the astronauts before they left for space.

One year after returning from long-duration spaceflight, most astronauts demonstrated incomplete recovery of bone density, strength, and trabecular thickness in the weight-bearing distal tibia.

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