Study suggests cosmic rays pose long-term risks for astronauts

Unsupervised K-means clustering reveals distinct patterns of 5hmC and 5mC regulation.

Unsupervised K-means clustering reveals distinct patterns of 5hmC and 5mC regulation.

For astronauts on long missions in deep space, the brain’s response to radiation exposure is an important concern. Cognitive and other impairments put crews at risk during space travel and may pose significant health hazards to space flight crews for years after a mission.

A unique feature of the space radiation environment is the presence of galactic cosmic rays and solar particle events, both of which involve protons. Exposure to these will likely impact multiple organ systems. In the central nervous system, radiation exposure significantly affects the hippocampus, which is critical for memory function.

A team of OHSU scientists led by Jacob Raber, Ph.D., and including Soren Impey, Ph.D., and Mitchell Turker, Ph.D., has demonstrated that the brain’s response to proton irradiation is both specific and prolonged. Using a mouse model, the scientists found impairments in object recognition, spatial memory retention, and hippocampal network stability after proton irradiation.

This research, published today in Scientific Reports, builds on previous research conducted by Raber, a professor of behavioral neuroscience, neurology and radiation medicine, and OHSU colleagues Impey, an associate professor of pediatrics and member of the Oregon Stem Cell Center, and Turker, a professor in the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences. In a paper published in 2016, they reported that long-term exposure to cosmic radiation may have the potential to alter the brain and change behavior in astronauts bound for Mars. That research project tested short- and long-term effects of radiation with Iron-56 ions on 6-month-old mice. In the new research, the cognitive changes observed after two weeks overlapped significantly with the impairments that continued at week 20—the alterations to the DNA did not disappear. In this research, mice were exposed to irradiation at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York. The NSRL facility simulates the cosmic radiation astronauts would experience in deep space.

Proton irradiation is also clinically relevant, as it is increasingly used in cancer therapy. Cognitive impairments due to radiation or chemotherapy, commonly called “chemo brain,” can be significant following treatments for cancer. Continued research on the ways in which cosmic rays affect the brain may help protect not only long-distance space travelers during and following missions, but cancer survivors as well.


This work was supported by NASA grant NNJ12ZSA001N. Robert Searles, Ph.D., director of the Massively Parallel Sequencing Shared Resource provided expertise for the design and interpretation of the DNA methylation and RNAseq experiments in the study. 

OCTRI Biomedical Innovation Program funding for device, diagnostic, and software development

The Oregon Clinical and Translational Research Institute and OHSU Technology Transfer & Business Development  have announced a funding opportunity to support device, diagnostic, and software development efforts at OHSU.

The Biomedical Innovation Program: Device, Diagnostic, and Software Development track is a funding mechanism designed to move innovative technologies from the bench to the bedside through technology development and commercialization.

The current RFA can be found here.
Letters of intent are due on September 19, 2017.

Program highlights:

  • Up to $40,000 in funding
  • Project management and hands-on support from BIP staff
  • Access to project-specific mentors and experts

Questions? Please contact Jonathan Jubera at or visit the OCTRI Funding Opportunities page for more information.

Vollum Science Writing Class begins September 27

The Vollum Writing Class is a professional science writing course open to OHSU graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty.

This class uses short lectures, class discussion, and workshop-style writing assignments to help researchers learn to write better papers and grants. Topics include:

  • The basic elements of good scientific writing style, including sentence and document structure
  • Insight into scientific conventions regarding grammar, punctuation, and usage
  • Strategies for revising
  • Dealing with writer’s block and time management
  • Best practices for writing introductions, results, discussions, and grant proposals

The class runs for four weeks on Wednesdays, 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., beginning September 27, 2017. Six individual tutorials with the instructor are included. There are no prerequisites for this non-credit professional development course, but you should not take the class unless you have enough data to write about.

The course carries a fee of $500 per student (unless you are in a Vollum lab or are enrolled in certain graduate Ph.D. programs). Questions? Contact

Access Compass to register for the Vollum Writing Class. (Search for ‘Vollum Writing’ in the search box.)

IRB fee changes go into effect Oct. 1

On October 1, 2017, OHSU Institutional Review Board fees will increase for industry-sponsored projects submitted through eIRB. Study teams should begin incorporating the fee structure in clinical trial budgets for new projects anticipated to be submitted on or after this date. Existing contracts will not be affected.

IRB fees are charged for industry-sponsored studies; no fees are charged for the review of foundation, federal, internally funded, or unfunded research. IRB fees are directly invoiced to the sponsor.

Please visit the IRB Fee Policy page for details on fee structures and information regarding IRB billing. You may also email Research Integrity at or contact the IRB manager, David Holmgren, at 503-346-3528 or

Alice Graham: In the Lab

Alice GrahamEarly brain development is influenced by the environment—including conflict and stress levels. Understanding the mechanisms of this influence might lead to a more nuanced understanding of the neural bases of mental health disorders. That is the goal of Alice Graham, Ph.D., featured in this month’s OHSU series In the Lab. Graham is a postdoc in the Department of Behavioral Neuroscience and conducts research in the Fair Neuroimaging Lab. She recently published a paper demonstrating a link between maternal inflammation during pregnancy and risks for psychiatric disorders in children.

Read the In the Lab interview with Graham on the internal OHSU Staff News blog.

New NIH Policy requires single IRB for multi-site research

On January 25, 2018, new rules take effect for NIH-funded multi-site research studies. Non-exempt human subjects research studies that are conducted at more than one U.S. site and use the same protocol must use a single IRB. This applies to all competing grant applications: new, renewal, revision, or resubmission.

What does the new policy mean for OHSU researchers?

OHSU has already begun streamlining the multi-site review process, using IRB reliance systems to waive oversight to other IRBs. In these cases, OHSU will continue to perform compliance reviews, which include research training compliance, OHSU-specific ancillary reviews, and required consent language.

OHSU study teams will be required to submit and maintain current versions of some study documents, including protocol, consent, and drug information. They must meet OHSU ancillary review requirements and complete OHSU required research trainings and Conflict of Interest Disclosures. OHSU study teams will also be required to inform the OHSU IRB of any event that is determined by the central IRB to be an “unanticipated problem.”

Please email Research Integrity at with any questions.

2017 Biomedical Innovation Program Drug Discovery awards announced

Two drug discovery projects have been named recipients of the 2017 Biomedical Innovation Program awards. The awards program is a collaboration of the Oregon Clinical & Translational Research Institute, OHSU Technology Transfer & Business Development, and the Knight Cancer Institute. The awards provide funds, project management, and mentorship to facilitate the development of innovative technologies at OHSU and accelerate their translation to the marketplace. This track of funding supports drug discovery platforms and early stage therapeutic technology projects.

Monika Davare, Ph.D.

Monika Davare, Ph.D.

Monika Davare, Ph.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics in the OHSU School of Medicine’s Division of Hematology and Oncology, received an award to develop a ‘hit to lead’ compound as a therapeutic agent to treat Ewing’s sarcoma and subsets of hematological malignancies.

Professor Beth Habecker, Ph.D., and Associate Professor Michael Cohen, Ph.D., both from the OHSU Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, were awarded funding to develop novel compositions targeting protein tyrosine phosphatase sigma for nerve regeneration.

Beth Habecker, Ph.D., and Michael Cohen, Ph.D.

Beth Habecker, Ph.D., and Michael Cohen, Ph.D.

“OCTRI is proud to support these investigators and their important work furthering drug discovery at OHSU,” said David Ellison, M.D., director of OCTRI. “The Biomedical Innovation Program prioritizes commercialization outcomes to help develop technologies in ways that give them the best chance of successfully making it to the marketplace and improving human health. We are very excited to fund these projects for 2017, and look forward to working closely with the investigators.”

Detailed information on the Biomedical Innovation Program can be found on the OCTRI website.

Reproductive & Developmental Sciences Symposium: From Bench to Bedside

primateThe 2017 Annual Oregon National Primate Research Center Scientific Symposium is being hosted by the Division of Reproductive & Developmental Sciences. The symposium’s three hot topics are germ cell and embryonic development, fertility and in utero development, and fetal outcome and postnatal development.

2017 Annual ONPRC Scientific Symposium
Reproductive & Developmental Sciences: From Bench to Bedside

Friday, September 22, 2017
8:15 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Oregon National Primate Research Center
OHSU West Campus

Submit poster presentation abstracts by email (300-word limit) before August 18.

Registration is free and includes breakfast, lunch, and an optional tour of the Center. Space is limited — early registration is recommended.


Biology of genomic methylation patterns
Keynote speaker: Timothy H. Bestor, Ph.D., professor of genetics and development
College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University
Presentations by the OHSU/ONPRC laboratories of Shawn Chavez, Ph.D.Shoukhrat Mitalipov, Ph.D., and Alison Ting, Ph.D.

Regulation of genomic imprinting in development and disease
Keynote speaker: Marisa S. Bartolomei, Ph.D., professor of cell and developmental biology
University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine
Presentations by the OHSU/ONPRC laboratories of Antonio Frias, M.D.Cadence True, Ph.D., and Leslie Myatt, Ph.D.

Maternal pre-pregnancy metabolic condition; short and long-term effects on offspring
Keynote speaker: Patrick M. Catalano, M.D., director of the Center for Reproductive Health at Case Western Reserve University and director of Clinical Research at MetroHealth
Presentations by the OHSU/ONPRC laboratories of Peta Grigsby, Ph.D.Alejandro Lomniczi, Ph.D.Elinor Sullivan, Ph.D., and Nancy Haigwood, Ph.D. 

Conference contact:

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine seeks input

na_nasem_logo_footerThe National Academies Next Generation Researchers Initiative Committee is soliciting feedback on actions that universities are taking to help successfully launch and sustain research careers in the biomedical and behavioral sciences.

The committee is seeking feedback on four core issues, including levels, sources and stability of funding; grant awards and review; training and mentoring; and underrepresented groups.

Submit your responses by October 1, 2017.

Study in Nature demonstrates method for repairing genes in human embryos that prevents inherited diseases

Gene correction in S-phase-injected human embryos.

Gene correction in S-phase-injected human embryos.

In a paper published in Nature today, August 2, 2017, Shoukhrat Mitalipov, Ph.D., reported the successful removal of a lethal genetic defect in human embryos.

Read the OHSU News story on Mitalipov’s new research.

The gene-editing technique described in this study could one day provide an avenue for people with known heritable disease-causing genetic mutations to eliminate the risk of passing the disease to their children. The study also demonstrated a way to overcome a crucial problem in genome editing. Known as mosaicism, the problem occurs when not all cells in a multicellular embryo are repaired and some cells still carry a mutation. These could ultimately find its way into an offspring’s DNA, rendering the repair moot.

The new study is the first to demonstrate that the technique can be used in human embryos to convert mutant genes back to normal.

The story behind the story

You may have seen some speculative reporting in the media about this research. OHSU honors our agreements with peer-reviewed journals to hold news of research until it is published. Two events made possible the premature media coverage. An individual not affiliated with OHSU, but familiar with the research, spoke without permission to a reporter. That reporter then found photos and video associated with the research that were briefly published prematurely on an OHSU website. Those images were removed and protocols have been changed to prevent this happening in the future. We worked closely with Nature to hold communications until publication of the paper, helping make possible thoughtful scientific writing about the paper.

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