The main objective of this PhD project is to investigate how neural cells and behaviour, and skin cells, are affected by factors associated with the spaceflight environment (microgravity, radiation, psychological stress). A specific focus will be placed on further elucidating the morphological and signaling pathways that control cellular alterations to space flight stressors using both in vitro and in vivo models (hindlimb unloading mouse model).
A second purpose of this PhD project is to develop effective countermeasures to preserve neural activity and to prevent skin ageing. Thus, beyond the obvious space-related applications, the results delivered by this project can also provide a better understanding of certain aspects of human health, such as ageing, trauma and disease (e.g. neurological disorders), and are therefore highly relevant to improve human health on earth as well.
To achieve the objectives described above, the PhD candidate will use in vitro and in vivo ground-based experiments using space simulating devices available at SCK•CEN. For the latter, two Random Positioning Machines are available at the Radiobiology Unit. In order to simulate cosmic radiation, experiments with low-linear energy transfer (LET) photons or high-LET neutrons can be performed at the irradiation facility available at SCK•CEN. Moreover, we will apply for high-LET beam time at international accelerator facilities (GANIL, GSI, iThemba …). Psychological stress can be mimicked by adding different stress hormones (e.g. cortisol) to cell cultures. Finally, an ESA call (IBER-4: Investigating Biological Effects of Radiation) will be launched at the end of 2017 for which we will apply for extra financement.
To investigate the morphological changes and molecular events behind brain and skin alterations to space stressors, various immune parameters will be analyzed using high-throughput technologies available within the microscopic, genomic and Luminex platform at SCK•CEN: whole genome analysis of neural and skin cells, morphological analysis, high-throughput quantitative analysis of inflammatory proteins (cytokines) using the Luminex Technology, …