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Karen Mallet

NASA Selects Georgetown University Medical Center as Specialized Center of Research to Study Space Radiation Risks

Washington, DC – NASA has selected Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) as a NASA Specialized Center of Research to conduct studies that help understand space radiation's effects on humans living in space. GUMC and the three other U.S. institutions will engage teams of investigators who have complementary skills to work together to solve a closely focused set of research questions and support the space radiation program element within NASA's Human Research Program.

The GUMC program will be directed by Albert J. Fornace Jr., a professor in the Department Of Biochemistry and Molecular & Cellular Biology who holds the Molecular Cancer Research Chair in the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at GUMC. The co-director is Jerry W. Shay, MA, PhD, of The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. Together, they’ll lead three projects addressing the impact space radiation’s impact on colorectal cancer. Specifically, the projects will address 1) space radiation on in vivo models of intestinal tumorigenesis, 2) space radiation on neoplastic events in normal human colonocytes, cells which form the lining of the colon, and 3) space radiation on gastroinstestinal stem cells, cells that differentiate and develop to have various and distinct jobs in the GI tract.

“Even a small exposure to space radiation could have a major impact on the development of colorectal cancer,” explains Fornace. “Precancerous lesions are present in about 10 percent of adults at age 40 which happens to be the approximate average age of a typical astronaut. It’s vital that we understand the impact of radiation on all space scientists so we know better how to plan future missions and also determine the kind of screening and monitoring the astronauts may need after space exploration.”

NASA is investing $28.4 million for research into carcinogenesis and central nervous system risks from spaceflight. Research from GUMC and the other proposals during the five-year award period will pave the way for development of effective countermeasures for space travelers.

The three other U.S. Specialized Centers of Research include New York University School of Medicine in New York, the University of Texas Medical Branch in Houston and Loma Linda University in California.

Fornace reports no related financial interests.

About Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center
The Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of Georgetown University Medical Center and Georgetown University Hospital, seeks to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of cancer through innovative basic and clinical research, patient care, community education and outreach, and the training of cancer specialists of the future. Lombardi is one of only 41 comprehensive cancer centers in the nation, as designated by the National Cancer Institute, and the only one in the Washington, DC, area. For more information, go to

About Georgetown University Medical Center
Georgetown University Medical Center is an internationally recognized academic medical center with a three-part mission of research, teaching and patient care (through Georgetown’s affiliation with MedStar Health). GUMC’s mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis -- or "care of the whole person." The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing and Health Studies, both nationally ranked, the world-renowned Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization (BGRO), home to 60 percent of the university’s sponsored research funding.

NASA’s Human Research Program
NASA's Human Research Program provides knowledge and technologies to improve health and performance during space exploration. The program also develops possible countermeasures for problems experienced during space travel. Goals include the successful completion of exploration missions and preservation of astronauts' health throughout their lives. The program quantifies crew health and performance risks during spaceflight and develops strategies that mission planners and system developers can use to monitor and mitigate these risks.


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