Aircrews may suffer genetic damage from cosmic radiation exposure

December 28th, 2008 - 2:58 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Dec 28 (ANI): A new study by US researchers has revealed that pilots and other staff who spend a career at high altitude may suffer genetic damage from exposure to cosmic radiation.

Researchers from Ohio and Maryland checked DNA from pilots and found more damage in those who spent longer in the air.

The height of the plane exposes passengers and crew to more radiation from space but experts said the Occupational and Environmental Medicine study did not prove this type of radiation could lead to health problems.

The potential threat from cosmic radiation, particles emitted from the sun, and other stars, has been an area of concern for some years, even though there is no strong evidence that it can cause harm.

While it constantly bombards the Earth, the atmosphere forms a protective barrier for those nearer ground level.

Previous studies have suggested that cabin crews and pilots are more prone to certain cancers than the general population but other explanations, such as disruption to the body clock caused by jetlag, have been suggested.

For the study, the researchers looked at blood samples from 83 airline pilots and compared them with samples from 50 carefully matched volunteers from other professions.

They then looked for “chromosome translocations” - signs of damage to the DNA.

These have been linked with cancer, although there is no certainty that someone with this kind of damage will go on to get cancer.

They found that while, overall, there was no difference between the non-pilots and pilots, there were significant differences in DNA damage from pilot to pilot, depending on how much time they spent flying.

The frequency of chromosome translocation among those who had flown the most was more than twice that of those who had flown the least.

The researchers said that pilots with the greatest experience might have been exposed to “biologically significant” doses of radiation.

A spokesman for the British Airline Pilots Association said that other studies had suggested that DNA damage might disappear within months of stopping flying.

“This is interesting, but we don”t believe that it proves that this type of radiation can cause health problems,” the BBC quoted her, as saying. (ANI)

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