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What effects can a trip to Mars have on the kidneys? Researchers answer

The US space agency (NASA) plans to carry out the first space mission to Mars by 2040. But this could trigger serious health complications for the astronauts who take part in the venture. A group of 105 researchers conducted a series of tests that revealed that going to the Red Planet could result in serious kidney problems.

The study combined analysis of data from humans and rats that participated in spaceflights with information extracted from tests, carried out on other rats, that simulated the effects of Galactic Cosmic Radiation (GCR).

This is, according to one of the universities involved in the research, the largest study ever done on kidney health in spaceflight. The results were published in the scientific journal Nature.

“We know what has happened to astronauts, in terms of increased health problems such as kidney stones, on the relatively short space missions undertaken to date. What we don’t know is why these problems occur, or what will happen to astronauts on longer flights, such as the proposed Mars mission,” Keith Siew, one of the study’s authors, told University College London.

So far, according to a statement from the university, most missions have taken place in Low Orbit and, therefore, the crew members have been partially protected by the Earth’s magnetic field. Only the 24 people who went to the Moon were exposed to Cosmic Radiation, but for a short period of time, which varied between six and 12 days.

To find out how the human body would behave over a longer period, the researchers exposed the animals to simulated radiation doses equivalent to long-term space missions, which ranged from one and a half to two and a half years.

The results show that the rats suffered permanent kidney damage .

“If we don’t develop new ways to protect the kidneys, I would say that an astronaut could make it to Mars, but he or she might need dialysis on the return trip,” Siew adds. Dialysis is the recommended treatment for people with kidney problems.

The results of the research indicated that the kidneys are “remodeled” and can shrink depending on space conditions. In addition to radiation exposure, another factor that can contribute to the phenomenon is microgravity.

The study, however, did not reach a definitive conclusion about what causes kidney complications.

For Stephen B. Walsh, who also participated in the research, a possible way to mitigate this effect is the development of a new drug. “As we learn more about kidney biology, it may be possible to develop technological or pharmaceutical measures to facilitate prolonged space travel,” he says.

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Source: CNN Brasil

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