Symposium highlights challenges of radiation, travel, health in space

By Connie Piloto

More than 200 people, including Dallas-area middle and high school students and teachers as well as college students from area universities, spent the first Saturday in October at UT Southwestern learning about space travel, radiation and health.

The daylong forum, sponsored by Science Teacher Access to Resources at Southwestern (STARS) and the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, highlighted how medical advances from space research may translate into treatments on Earth that will improve human health.

U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall speaks to attendees of the Space Travel, Radiation and Health Symposium presented on campus by STARS and the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“This was the largest and most enthusiastic crowd on campus for a STARS symposium in my memory,” said Dr. Joel Goodman, professor of pharmacology at UT Southwestern and director of STARS, a program established in 1991 to improve science education in North Central Texas. “It is very heartening to see such interest among young people for a national scientific endeavor.”

Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, president of
UT Southwestern, offered the opening remarks and welcomed U.S. Rep. Ralph M. Hall, the ranking member of the House Science and Technology Committee. Rep. Hall is a member of the House Action Team, a bipartisan group of House members dedicated to promoting NASA and keeping alive the vision of space exploration.

“I’m looking into the face of the future,” Rep. Hall said as he surveyed the young faces in the audience.

Dr. Jerry Shay, professor of cell biology, organized the program of speakers, which included scientists from the Johnson Space Center in Houston and UT Southwestern. Researchers discussed the uncertainties that exist about health consequences to astronauts who undertake long-term space missions. In addition to preventing radiation exposure and sickness, there is a critical need to limit brain and heart diseases as well as fatal cancers.

Tony Dickensheets, chairman of the science department at Dealey International Academy, a magnet school in the Dallas Independent School District, accompanied 10 of his students to the event.

“Programs like these reinforce what I’m teaching in the classroom,” Mr. Dickensheets said. “They expose students to a learning environment outside the classroom. They are listening and interacting with the true experts in the field.”

Presentations by Johnson Space Center officials included:

  • Dr. Richard Scheuring, flight surgeon: "Introduction to Space Medicine."
  • Dr. Francis Cucinotta, chief scientist for NASA’s space radiation program: "What Is NASA Doing to Assess and Reduce Risk."

Presentations by UT Southwestern scientists included:

  • Dr. Andres Roig, assistant instructor of internal medicine: "Introduction to Cancer and How I Became Interested in Space Science."
  • Dr. David Chen, professor of radiation oncology: "Radiation DNA Damage and Repair."
  • Dr. Michael Story, associate professor of radiation oncology: "Radiation Effects on Lung Cancer and Leukemia: Genomic Approaches to Assessing Radiation Risks."
  • Dr. Amelia Eisch, assistant professor of psychiatry: "Radiation Effects on the Brain."
  • Dr. Benjamin Levine, professor of internal medicine: "Radiation Effects on the Cardiovascular System."
  • Oliver Delgado, graduate student research assistant in cell biology: "Using Mice to Assess Radiation Effects on Cancer Initiation and Progression."
  • Dr. Shay: "Countermeasures to Protect Against Radiation Damage."
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Dr. Goodman holds the Jan and Bob Bullock Distinguished Chair for Science Education.