NASA awards $1.8 million grant to Medical College of Wisconsin

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) — The Medical College of Wisconsin has received a four-year, $1.8 million grant from NASA to determine the risk of developing degenerative heart disease from exposure to space radiation.

John Baker, Ph.D., professor of cardiothoracic surgery at MCW and an investigator at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Research Institute, is the primary investigator of the grant.

NASA is actively planning human space missions that might include an asteroid, the moon or Mars, which would require astronauts to live for prolonged periods of time outside the earth’s protective atmosphere. Astronauts would be exposed to space radiation from high energy galactic cosmic rays and lower energy solar particle events.

“We’ve seen cardiovascular damage in people on earth who have been exposed to high levels of radiation—for example, survivors of the atomic bomb in Japan. As part of this research, we will conduct ground-based studies to assess the increased risk of developing cardiovascular damage in space,” said Dr. Baker.

The project includes the development of a model of disease progression, which will help determine at what levels and at what duration radiation damage would occur.

Collaborators on the project include John Moulder, Ph.D., professor of radiation biology; and Richard Komorowski, M.D., professor of pathology, both at MCW; Amy Kronenberg, DSc at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; John Hopewell, DSc at the University of Oxford, UK; and Mark Little, DSc at the National Cancer Institute.