February 19, 2015 – As part of its ongoing research and development activities associated with astronaut health and performance, NASA’s Human Research Program will fund three new NASA Specialized Centers of Research (NSCOR) as part of space radiation research.
These three NSCORs, led by recognized experts in the field of space radiobiology, will build on prior research to better characterize and mitigate the risks from space radiation, particularly in the areas of cancer development and central nervous system alterations, to enable future human exploration of Mars.
An NSCOR consists of a team of investigators with complementary skills working together to answer a closely focused set of research questions with the goal of achieving overall research progress that is greater than the sum achievable by each individual project. Collectively, the three NSCOR teams comprise 25 investigators from 13 institutions in 8 states and the District of Columbia.
The three newly-selected NSCORs will receive a total of approximately $27 million over five years to address specific concerns regarding the effects of space radiation on the central nervous system and the development of cancer.
The first NSCOR team will be led by Dr. Michael Weil, a professor of cancer genetics at Colorado State University. Weil’s team will build upon prior research to address key questions related to risk of space radiation exposure on both cancer development and the nervous system. Studies will be carried out to identify biological markers for susceptibility to cancer and early disease detection, and research that is critical for understanding disease mechanisms, early detection and development of countermeasures to reduce risk from exposure to space radiation.
The NSCOR led by Prof. Charles Limoli from the University of California at Irvine will focus on resolving the mechanisms that lead to changes in cognitive function to improve risk estimates for early and long-term effects on the central nervous system caused by exposure to space radiation. Specific studies will include investigating changes in cognition caused by space radiation, and quantifying the extent of alterations to nerve cells that may impact behavior and cognition.
Dr. Albert Fornace of Georgetown University leads the NSCOR to study the effects of space radiation on development of gastrointestinal (GI) cancer. Building on prior research results, this team will assess the effects of age, sex and genetics in models of space radiation-induced GI cancer development.
The radiation exposure studies will be conducted at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory, located at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York.
The three selected NSCORs are:
Prof. Charles Limoli, University of California-Irvine, “Mechanisms Underlying Charged Particle-Induced Disruption of CNS Function”
Dr. Michael Weil, Colorado State University, “NASA Specialized Center of Research on Carcinogenesis”
Dr. Albert Fornace, Georgetown University, “Space Radiation and Gastrointestinal Cancer: A Comprehensive Strategy for Risk Assessment and Model Development”