Radiation Environment
Section M 3.11.
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Medical Treatment of Radiation

Wesley Ian Bruce

The best cure for radiation is prevention, but if the crews do get a dose there are things we can do to treat them. Radiation kills in four basic ways:

  1. Direct brain hemorrhage and brain cell destruction
  2. Diarrhea-induced dehydration
  3. Damage to the immune system
  4. Long term cancer

The first is immediately lethal and can't be treated. It is also the main cause of death for radiation victims. The second sets in early and is the main cause of death from doses around 100-400 rem. The cells lining the intestinal tract die off and their cell walls become permeable to blood fluids. Water, blood sugars, and salts flow through the dead cells and drain through the intestinal tract resulting in rapid dehydration and salt deficiencies. Nausea prevents the intake of fluids from being matched to the losses. Anti-nausea drugs exist as do intravenous rehydration solutions. These can keep the radiation victim alive long enough for the lining of the intestines to regrow.

The immune system effects are delayed by about a week because there is a reserve of unused immune cells in the human body. Treating this effect involves stored a large white blood cell sample from each astronaut before launch. Over a few months the astronaut donates blood, the white cells are removed, and the rest is transfused back into his/her body. Some of the stored blood is sent into space with the astronaut housed in a lead fridge, the rest being stored on Earth. If a radiation dose is received some of the white cells are transfused back into the donor astronaut. Because this is his/her own blood there would be no compatibility problems. The old immune cells keep the immune system going until the bone marrow makes a batch of new white blood cells. A bone marrow sample may also be taken before a flight to allow damaged marrow to be replaced.

By taking samples of a crew members' white blood cells and bone marrow before he/she goes into space, we create a stock of samples that can be used to repair the immune system quickly after chemotherapy. Thus the long term cancer problems are partly solved. Using white blood and marrow taken from well before the injury avoids the problems of compatibility and rejection making strong chemotherapy safer.

Samples of sperm, eggs and even a small skin sample may allow damage to the reproductive organs and burns to be repaired. This allows relatively safe invetro-reproduction after a heavy dose of radiation.

No medical technique will replace careful shielding design, but with a stock of cells from the crews' own bodies we have the resources to fight the damage from radiation and win a large percentage of the time. It might also be a good idea for one of the crew to have medical training.

Radiation Environment

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