UAMS Researchers Awarded $4.4 Million Grant for Space Radiation Health Research

By Ben Boulden

Marjan Boerma, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences in the UAMS College of Pharmacy Division of Radiation Health, will lead the research team and serve as its principal investigator.

Compared to the general population, people exposed to radiation in different scenarios on Earth have shown higher incidences of cardiovascular diseases like hypertension, ischemic heart disease and stroke. The cardiovascular system seems more sensitive to ionizing radiation than previously believed, Boerma said. Hence, the researchers will seek to determine if radiation encountered during space travel has similar negative long-term consequences for cardiovascular health. They also will look for ways to reduce the health risks from radiation exposure in space.

“One of the countermeasures against radiation injury that we’re interested in is tocotrienol, in the vitamin E family,” Boerma said. “We will use and test gamma-tocotrienol because it has been shown to be very effective in protecting against radiation injury. Now, since tocotrienols also have several other benefits for heart and blood vessels, we’re going to test to see if it reduces cardiovascular effects from space radiation.”

In addition to Boerma, other UAMS scientists and faculty at the center include: Martin Hauer-Jensen, M.D., Ph.D., associate dean for research and director of the Division of Radiation Health in the UAMS College of Pharmacy; Alan Tackett, Ph.D., professor in the UAMS College of Medicine Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; and Igor Koturbash, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health in the UAMS Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health. Hauer-Jensen will serve as co-director of the center, while Tackett and Koturbash are co-investigators.

Researchers at Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, California, Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, will share in the NSBRI grant funding and will collaborate with the UAMS team through the center.

NSBRI, a 501(c)(3) organization partnered with NASA via Cooperative Agreement NCC 9-58, is studying the health risks related to long-duration spaceflight and developing the technologies and countermeasures needed for human space exploration missions. The institute’s science, technology and career development projects take place at approximately 60 institutions across the United States.

UAMS is the state's only health sciences university, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; hospital; a main campus in Little Rock; a Northwest Arkansas regional campus in Fayetteville; a statewide network of regional campuses; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Psychiatric Research Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Translational Research Institute and Institute for Digital Health & Innovation. UAMS includes UAMS Health, a statewide health system that encompasses all of UAMS' clinical enterprise including its hospital, regional clinics and clinics it operates or staffs in cooperation with other providers. UAMS is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. U.S. News & World Report recognized UAMS Medical Center as a Best Hospital for 2021-22; ranked its ear, nose and throat program among the top 50 nationwide for the third year; and named five areas as high performing — colon cancer surgery, diabetes, hip replacement, knee replacement and stroke. Forbes magazine ranked UAMS as seventh in the nation on its Best Employers for Diversity list. UAMS also ranked in the top 30% nationwide on Forbes’ Best Employers for Women list and was the only Arkansas employer included. UAMS has 2,876 students, 898 medical residents and six dental residents. It is the state's largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians who provide care to patients at UAMS, its regional campuses, Arkansas Children's, the VA Medical Center and Baptist Health. Visit or Find us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram.