Dr. Michael A. Schmidt, President and Chief Scientific Officer of Sovaris Aerospace, was invited to present his team’s research at the Life Sciences section at the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference in Boulder, CO on June 3, 2013.

NSRC-2013 brought together vehicle providers, researchers and educators from academia, government and industry to engage in presentations, workshops and networking opportunities. Keynote speakers included NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, FAA Associate Administrator George Nield, and former Space Shuttle and ISS astronaut and Commercial Spaceflight Federation President Michael Lopez-Alegria. Representatives from the suborbital vehicle companies were available to discuss contracting procedures, training requirements, and payload integration. In addition, NASA officials discussed how researchers can propose suborbital flights in NASA grant applications. Life science investigators discussed human medical, performance, safety, and countermeasure issues. Sponsored by Southwest Research Institute and the Commercial Spaceflight Federation

Dr. Schmidt presented the work of his team, which includes research partner and co-investigator Dr. Thomas Goodwin of NASA Johnson Space Center. Dr. Schmidt’s group is focused on assessing the biological, biochemical, and physiologic demands placed on human and biological systems in the complexity of space.
His presentation was entitled, “Can We Afford to Fly Subjects with Unstable DNA into Radiation Environments? Advances in Personalized Assessment & Countermeasures.” The summary of the presentation is outlined below:

Significant attention has been given to methods of shielding human space participants from radiation. This includes extensive efforts focused on various forms of shielding to protect astronauts within the vehicle and on finding molecular countermeasures that might be administered.
Presently, our group has identified a novel approach to space radiation countermeasures, which is based on the DNA stability and repair capability of individual space participants. This phenomenon is linked to individual genotype and micronutrient status, both of which are modifiable by appropriate pre-flight, personalized countermeasures.

DNA Stability and Repair
Two primary influences converge to influence DNA stability and repair. These are genotype and micronutrient status. For instance, common gene mutations affecting one carbon metabolism (MTHFR, MTR, etc) result in uracil accumulation in the nucleus, leading to single strand DNA breaks, double strand DNA breaks, micronucleation, nuclear buds, and nuclear bridges. The effect of this is amplified by folate deficiency.

By example, reducing folate concentration from 120 nmol/L to 12 nmol/L in lymphocytes is equivalent to an exposure to 0.2 Gy of low linear-energy-transfer ionizing radiation. Thus illustrating that these pre-mission molecular variants can have adverse effects on DNA akin to what we are hoping to negate in astronauts encountering radiation in space.

Other common gene variants facilitate excessive iron accumulation, which creates unstable DNA through oxidative mechanisms. Magnesium is a central component of most DNA repair enzymes (base excision repair, etc). Significant serum, urine, and tissue declines of Mg has already been found in ISS participants on long missions, thus raising the question of whether we are already flying astronauts with diminished capacity to repair DNA damage.

We propose that an important safeguard against radiation exposure, regardless of how modest the cumulative radiation dose, is assessment of the known genomic, proteomic, and metabolomic variants that impact DNA stability and DNA repair. This would be followed by pre-mission countermeasures personalized to each participant. For repeated suborbital flyers, such as pilots and scientists, this may be one means by which the cumulative effects of low level radiation encountered on recurring missions can be reduced. Conversely, failure to attend to issues of DNA stability and DNA repair may mean that we permit participants to enter the suborbital environment with greater risk to DNA integrity.

Sovaris Aerospace, LLC is a private company focused on medical solutions to human performance in extreme environments. Sovaris develops assessment and countermeasure solutions for humans engaged in a range of demanding conditions, including space flight, professional race car driving, collegiate and professional athletics, and many others. Sovaris also develops a range of solutions in human preventive medicine and disease state management. Sovaris has collaborations with a broad range of institutions, investigators, and private groups, including NASA Johnson Space Center, NASA Ames Research Center, Colorado State University, the University of Manchester, and the Southwest Research Institute.