Two British researchers are planning to help NASA grow replacement human tissue that astronauts can transplant into their bodies if necessary on their way to Mars.

Dr. Colin McGuckin and Dr. P. Nicolas Forraz from Kingston University’s School of Life Sciences have linked up with NASA on a $1 million project that will explore ways to protect astronauts from space radiation. They are for a manned mission to Mars in 2020.

Using NASA’s microgravity facilities, the duo hope to develop preventive medicines that the astronauts can take with them to guard against bone-mass loss caused by long-term space exposure. The researchers are also looking for ways to boost the astronauts’ own defense mechanisms against space radiation.

“It’s about using the body’s natural defense system,” said Forraz. “Some of your cells are even now becoming cancerous, and the first line of defense against cancer is natural killer cells within the body that detect these mutants and kill them straight away. One of the main limitations to long space travel is space radiation, and we plan to enhance the natural killer cells in astronauts to tackle the damages.”

The two were tapped by NASA for their expertise in anti-cancer research, gained from studying victims in the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. With the aid of NASA scientists, they plan to develop chip-based biosensors to detect radiation damage at a molecular and cellular level. The technology will be tested in NASA’s unmanned space mission program in 2008.

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