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Center of Acute Radiation Research

Principal Investigator:
Ann R. Kennedy, D.Sc.

University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

When astronauts travel outside low-Earth orbit, they will be at risk of exposure to bursts of radiation called solar particle events (SPEs). The health problems, called acute radiation sickness (ARS), caused by the SPEs can occur immediately. Symptoms of ARS include nausea, vomiting and fatigue, followed by potential skin injury and changes to white blood cell counts and the immune system.

The Center of Acute Radiation Research (CARR) Director Dr. Ann Kennedy is leading a group of researchers working on five projects to assess the immediate effects of radiation exposure from SPEs, better define the risks, and develop and test methods to protect astronauts. The researchers will use animal models to conduct the studies.

NASA Taskbook Entry

Technical Summary

In this research project, animal-model systems are being utilized to evaluate the space radiation induced acute radiation syndrome (ARS) with vomiting (and/or retching) and white blood cell counts in ferrets, white blood cell counts, fatigue and immune system parameters in mice, and skin injury, with accompanying immune system changes, and white blood cell counts in pigs as the biological endpoints. In addition, the effects of combined exposure to simulated hypogravity and space radiation on blood cell counts and immune functions with respect to both the innate immune system and the acquired immune system in mice are being evaluated in mice.

The first few years of the project are focused on determinations of whether certain parts of the ARS occur in animals exposed to space radiation(s) simulating that occurring during a solar particle event (SPE). If problems are observed to exist for the model systems used, later years of the project will be focused on the development of countermeasures for these effects. In these studies, selected drugs will be evaluated in the animal model systems to determine their effectiveness in prevention and/or mitigation of the specific ARS symptoms. The dose response relationships measured for these endpoints will be compared mathematically with published results for human subjects to determine the RBEs and the predictive value of these animal models for bio-dosimetry and for intervention studies to evaluate FDA-approved drugs that can be used for prevention and/or mitigation of the ARS symptoms. Various tissues will be collected from the animals for histopathological examination and for studies by various immunohistochemistry, qPCR and/or immunochemistry techniques to study the underlying mechanisms for the acute radiation syndrome and its prevention and/or treatment by drugs.

As part of the studies in Year 3 of this grant's activities, countermeasure studies began to identify agents that could prevent and/or mitigate the effects of SPE radiation on ferret emesis and mouse blood cell counts. These investigations have been designed to address Acute Radiation Syndromes - Specific Gaps 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 and 8 identified in NSBRI-RFA-08-02. 


Earth Applications

It is well known that exposure to ionizing radiation at sufficiently high doses can result in various types of adverse biological effects. The countermeasures being developed as part of this research program have significance for all individuals exposed to high doses of ionizing radiation on Earth as well as in space. The countermeasures shown to protect against radiation-induced biological effects from space radiation will be equally useful for protection against radiation-induced biological effects on Earth.

This project's funding ended in 2014