Can human kidneys survive a trip to Mars? New research reveals risks

June 12, 2024  22:19

A study conducted by scientists at University College London (UCL) has revealed serious kidney health risks in spaceflight conditions, which could jeopardize ambitious long-term missions such as expeditions to Mars.

In this study, an international team of scientists conducted extensive experiments and analyses using data and samples from 20 research cohorts. These included over 40 missions in low Earth orbit and 11 space simulations involving mice and rats.

Particularly important were seven simulations in which mice were exposed to doses of galactic cosmic radiation (GCR, the natural radiation background in space) equivalent to Mars missions lasting 1.5 and 2.5 years, simulating spaceflight conditions beyond Earth's magnetic field.

The study results showed that both humans and animals experienced "remodeling" of their kidneys in microgravity conditions. Specific kidney tubules responsible for calcium-salt balance began to shrink after just a month in space.

Additionally, it was previously believed that the main cause of kidney stone formation in space was the loss of bone mass and the accumulation of calcium in urine. However, the new study showed that the process of salt handling in the kidneys also changes dramatically under space conditions.

Dr. Keith Siu, the study's lead author, noted: "If we do not develop new ways to protect the kidneys, astronauts may face the need for dialysis on the return journey. Kidneys show signs of radiation damage late, and when it becomes apparent, it may already be too late to prevent failure."

Another author of the study, Professor Steven B. Walsh, also emphasized the importance of kidney protection in space missions: "It is impossible to protect them from galactic radiation through shielding, but it is possible to develop technological or pharmaceutical measures to facilitate long-duration space travel."

According to him, any medications developed for astronauts could also find applications on Earth, such as for cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy.

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