A team in Dadachova’s lab, led by Mackenzie Malo (center, fifth from left), is focused on research aimed at protecting people from the harmful effects of radiation by ingesting melanin-infused mushrooms. (Photo: Submitted)
Recently, the team’s main research has focused on how melanin can protect astronauts from radiation-rich space travel. Protecting astronauts from radiation in space solves one of the many problems associated with long-duration space travel, a feat many international space organizations are working to achieve over the next decade.
This research has taken Malo to NASA’s Space Radiation Laboratory at the US Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, where he worked on an experiment that tested melanin-containing mushrooms to see if ingesting them and their melanin content might be possible. reduce the negative effects of space radiation on the body.
“Space travel involves countless risks, including radiation exposure,” Malo said. “By identifying easy-to-administer and safe means to protect radiation-sensitive organs, you can potentially reduce some of the dangers of space travel.”
Research was interrupted by the outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, but the lab team continued in the face of international travel and supply chain disruptions.
“Coordinating this work has been going on since 2019 and has been extremely difficult,” Malo said. “The experiment was canceled twice at the last minute due to complications during the pandemic and equipment failure at the NASA facility before we could finally complete it.”
The next phase of the project will evaluate the ability to incorporate melanin into plastics used in the physical shield. USask graduate student Michelle Vargas Fernandez is currently tasked with developing a plastic material containing melanin nanoparticles so that it can be tested for its ability to protect vital organs from simulated space radiation.
This protective technology could theoretically be applied to people other than astronauts, such as those receiving radiation therapy for cancer or other health problems.
“Our work in the development of radioprotective agents, in cancer treatment and in the treatment of infectious diseases is exciting because it has clear real-world applications and potential benefits,” Malo said.
In addition to ongoing work to take radiopharmaceutical solutions to new heights, Dadachova’s lab team and Malo are working with Dr. Sean Maw (PhD) and the USAsk space team on their RADSAT-SK project, part of the Canadian CubeSat project funded and supported by the Canadian Space Agency. A multidisciplinary team of students and staff from USask and Saskatchewan Polytechnics, including students from USask’s space design team, is developing sensors that measure radiation doses that can be attached to a satellite. The launch is scheduled for early 2023, creating Saskatchewan’s first satellite in space.
“I consider myself a lifelong learner and am constantly challenged to learn and improve my skills in my work,” Malo said. “I enjoy a challenge and hope to continue to grow in this industry.”