Scientists Explore Gene Therapy to Help Astronauts Get to Mars and Resist Radiation

Scientists are exploring how gene therapy can be used to avoid radiation exposure during deep space missions.
Jessica Miley

Scientists are exploring gene therapy as a way to help astronauts deal with exposure to radiation during space missions. Members of the Artificial Intelligence research group Insilico Medicine Inc have teamed up with medical scientists to explore how gene therapy can help combat potential radiation poisoning during space travel. 

It is estimated that an astronaut traveling to Mars and back would be exposed to radiation doses of 600 mSv. NASA sets a lifetime cap of 800-1200 mSv for astronauts. 

Insilico Medicine Inc explore AI options

Insilico Medicine Inc has published a report on their research titled "Vive la radiorésistance!” which explains an astronaut experiences 40-100 times the radiation earthbound humans do. American astronaut Scott Kelly has spent a total of 520 days in space, has a lifetime radiation dose so far of 239.6 mSv

NASA has made radiation a top priority for research. In 2015 the agency said: “Though far off, a medication that would counteract some or all of the health effects of radiation exposure would make it much easier to plan for a safe journey to Mars and back.” 

Long life spans of astronauts crucial

Insilico Medicine Inc seem determined that deep space missions are not too far off and that their research will play a key role. "The cost of one productive life year (PLY) for humans in space is likely to be much higher than on Earth and efforts should be made to maximize PLYs of the colonists,” states Alex Zhavoronkov, PhD, founder and CEO of Insilico Medicine Inc at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. 

“Nations worldwide should consider putting aside the ideological differences that lead to segregation and slowdown in science and unite around achieving increased longevity and health of the space travelers."

Research to be presented in Switzerland

“Our ‘Falcon Heavy’ is the fully integrated end-to-end drug discovery pipeline utilizing the next-generation artificial intelligence,” says Ivan Ozerov, Ph.D., Insilico’s director of target discovery. More details of the group's research and plan will be presented at the 5th Annual Aging Research for Drug Discovery Forum and the 2nd Annual Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain Technologies for Healthcare Forum in Basel, Switzerland, in mid-September. 


The researchers at Insilico Medicine Inc aren't the only ones curious about ways to combat radiation. Australian biologist, Professor David Sinclair from UNSW and Harvard Medical School has been working on a drug development project that could lead to DNA having the ability to self-repair. 

“We are working with Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to find new genes that protect DNA and introducing new genes such as Dsup” – a protein that can boost cells’ DNA “and other protective genes from other species into mice”, he said.

The research examines tardigrades and radiodurans bacteria which have DNA protection genes.

“They might boost DNA repair or prevent DNA damage – we don’t know for sure yet,” he said. Sinclair's team has now begun human trials to test if a DNA precursor can mitigate DNA damage from radiation exposure.