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$4.4M Space Radiation Health Research Grant for UAMS Researchers

Team will look into long-term effects on cardiovascular health.
LITTLE ROCK, AR (News release) - A team of University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) research scientists recently was awarded a three-year $4.4 million grant by the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) to investigate the degenerative or long-term health effects of space radiation on cardiovascular health, as part of the newly formed Center for Space Radiation Research. 

Marjan Boerma, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences in the UAMS College of Pharmacy Division of Radiation Health, will lead the research team and serve as its principal investigator.  

Compared to the general population, people exposed to radiation in different scenarios on Earth have shown higher incidences of cardiovascular diseases like hypertension, ischemic heart disease and stroke. The cardiovascular system seems more sensitive to ionizing radiation than previously believed, Boerma said. Hence, the researchers will seek to determine if radiation encountered during space travel has similar negative long-term consequences for cardiovascular health. They also will look for ways to reduce the health risks from radiation exposure in space. 

“One of the countermeasures against radiation injury that we’re interested in is tocotrienol, in the vitamin E family,” Boerma said. “We will use and test gamma-tocotrienol because it has been shown to be very effective in protecting against radiation injury. Now, since tocotrienols also have several other benefits for heart and blood vessels, we’re going to test to see if it reduces cardiovascular effects from space radiation.” 

In addition to Boerma, other UAMS scientists and faculty at the center include: Martin Hauer-Jensen, M.D., Ph.D., associate dean for research and director of the Division of Radiation Health in the UAMS College of Pharmacy; Alan Tackett, Ph.D., professor in the UAMS College of Medicine Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; and Igor Koturbash, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health in the UAMS Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health. Hauer-Jensen will serve as co-director of the center, while Tackett and Koturbash are co-investigators. 

Researchers at Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, California, Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, will share in the NSBRI grant funding and will collaborate with the UAMS team through the center. 

NSBRI, a 501(c)(3) organization partnered with NASA via Cooperative Agreement NCC 9-58, is studying the health risks related to long-duration spaceflight and developing the technologies and countermeasures needed for human space exploration missions. The institute's science, technology and career development projects take place at approximately 60 institutions across the United States.
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