Wed. Dec 1st, 2021

Far from consensus, science is still investigating the potential health consequences after long trips in space. Now a team of researchers – including members of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden – and cosmonauts have discovered that seasons under the influence of microgravity can potentially cause brain damage.

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    The study, published on the JAMA Neurology platform, examined the effects of space travel on five cosmonauts remaining on the International Space Station (ISS), through blood samples collected at different times. On average, each of the study participants spent 52 days in orbit – about five and a half months. After analyzing the samples, the researchers observed high concentrations of three biomarkers associated with brain damage.

    Long seasons on the ISS can cause probable brain damage (Image: Reproduction / Cookelma / Envato)

    Until then, other adverse effects of space travel on the human organism were known, such as muscle atrophy, decrease in bone mass, impaired vision, and alteration of the bacterial flora in the gut. However, this is the first evidence related to the brain.

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    “This is the first time that concrete evidence of brain cell damage has been documented in blood tests after spaceflights,” explained neuroscientist Henrik Zetterberg from the University of Gothenburg. “This should be investigated and further avoided so that space travel becomes more common in the future,” he points out.

    In the study, the researchers followed five male cosmonauts with an average age of 52 years. Blood samples were collected at four different times: 20 days before the trip to the ISS; one day after returning to Earth; one week after returning home; and three weeks after returning home.

  • Space travel could potentially cause brain damage (Image: Reproduction / Raman Oza / Pixabay)

    The biomarkers that the study analyzed were: neurofilament light (NFL); glial fibrillar acidic protein (GFAP); total tau protein (T-tau); and two beta-amyloid proteins. Of these markers, three – NFL, GFAP and the beta -amyloid protein Aβ31 – were in significantly increased concentrations after stay on the ISS.

    So far, scientists have not been able to identify how the cosmonauts’ brains were affected by the trip, nor are they sure if they still remain that way. On the other hand, the three biomarkers are related to neurological disorders. In fact, other studies have linked them to brain damage. So it is possible that the effects will only show up in the future.

    For now, research is still at an early stage, and now more data from other travelers will be needed to find out exactly how and how time in space negatively affects the brain. “If we can figure out what’s causing the damage, the biomarkers we’ve looked at can help us figure out how to best remedy the problem,” Zetterberg states.

    To access the full article on the modification of biomarkers in long space travel, published on the JAMA Neurology scientific platform, click here.

    Source: Science Alert and the University of Gothenburg

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