Sorry Guys: NASA-Funded Study Suggests Women's Brains Are Better Suited For Deep Space Travel

Wednesday, 29 August 2018 - 1:29PM
Space
Neuroscience
Wednesday, 29 August 2018 - 1:29PM
Sorry Guys: NASA-Funded Study Suggests Women's Brains Are Better Suited For Deep Space Travel
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Image Credit: NASA/JSC
If this is a man's world, then it is most certainly a woman's universe. Scientific American reports that new research published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity and funded by NASA, scientists found that women may have an advantage over men when it comes to deep space radiation and mental resilience. There are forces in space that could have adverse effects on the human body, but there's something about the female brain makes women less susceptible and thus, better candidates.

The study was conducted by researchers at University of California, San Francisco and Brookhaven National Laboratory on male and female mice. The mice were exposed to simulated galactic cosmic radiation (GCR) for seven minutes and monitored for months to see how, if at all, they were affected. While the male mice showed "diminished social interaction, increased anxiety-like phenotype and impaired recognition memory," the female mice were unaffected. The changes in the male mice, according to the study, correlates with "microglia activation and synaptic loss in the hippocampus." As Scientific American points out, previous studies have suggested that female mice have less activated microglia than male mice, which could help explain why the radiation did not affect their brains. 

As to be expected, not everyone is on board with the findings of this study. "Humans irradiated for brain cancer treatment at much higher doses don't show much difference between males and females," said former chief scientist for NASA's Space Radiation Program, Francis Cucinotta. He added that A-bomb survivors in Japan didn't show brain effects from the radiation, and there were no sex-linked differences for astronauts on space stations or workers at nuclear power plants. He also pointed out that despite what the study suggest about male and female brains, females are still more likely to get breast or ovarian cancer from exposure.

Another researcher not involved with the study, University of Nebraska Medical Center radiation biologist Rebecca Oberley-Deegan, took issue with the results because of a problem with the setup for the study that resulted in the male mice fighting. "It appears that the male mice fought so much that five died as a result, and they all had wounds throughout the experiment," she told Scientific American. "This is very common and generally only littermate males are housed together because they will not fight...I would say this data shows that a stressed-out, wounded animal is more vulnerable to radiation damage." Lead author Karen Krukowski responded to the criticism by saying that littermates were housed together, that the aggressive mice were housed separately, and that the wounded mice were not included in the behavioral analysis.  

Krukowski and her team added that radiation is not the only concern for astronauts entering deep space, with sleep deprivation and other factors also on the list to be studied.

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