DLR team pointing at the “Fe” symbol – cells were irradiated with accelerated iron ions.
Travelling in space is humankind’s dream. Many obstacles have to be overcome to allow a healthy arrival at the destination – space radiation is the number one health risk for long-term spaceflight. What is the risk when the most complex organ – the brain – is hit by the energetic particles of the galactic cosmic rays? How can neuronal cells cope with this particle bombardment?
To answer these questions, on April 14, 2019, a six-person team from the Radiation and Gravitational Biology Departments, DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine, performed the first heavy ion experiment with neuronal cells at the GSI Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research. Supported by the GSI liaison scientist and the irradiation team, they exposed primary astrocytes and neurons to accelerated iron ions, which are an important component of the radiation field encountered during space missions. The team prepared and irradiated nearly 250 samples within four hours, running back and forth between the biology lab and the irradiation cave.
The upcoming sample analysis in cooperation with the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre SCK•CEN and the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) will add important puzzle pieces in order to shed light upon the molecular processes initiated in brain cells after heavy ion hits.
This beamtime for the experiment “Mechanisms of heavy ion-induced damage in primary neuronal cells – NEURON” was funded by ESA, project AO-2017-IBER. The experiment was performed at the SIS18 at the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung, Darmstadt (Germany) in the frame of FAIR Phase-0.
Astrocytes in slide flasks, ready for irradiation. The laser helps with correct positioning of the samples on the conveyor belt at GSI.