Radio Cade

Space Pod: How to Protect Yourself from Radiation in Space (and Here on Earth Too!)

October 28, 2020 Oren Milstein Season 1 Episode 101
Radio Cade
Space Pod: How to Protect Yourself from Radiation in Space (and Here on Earth Too!)
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Radio Cade
Space Pod: How to Protect Yourself from Radiation in Space (and Here on Earth Too!)
Oct 28, 2020 Season 1 Episode 101
Oren Milstein

We have learned a great deal about radiation here on earth, and that knowledge has paved the way for us to discover a solution to an even more difficult problem, radiation in space. Space explorers need to be able to move and work without worrying about radiation. Dr. Oren Milstein, CEO and Co-founder of StemRad, has created a wearable radiation shielding vest that takes up minimal space and protects the most susceptible vital organs — like bone marrow, reproductive organs and lungs — from the harmful effects of radiation. 

Show Notes Transcript

We have learned a great deal about radiation here on earth, and that knowledge has paved the way for us to discover a solution to an even more difficult problem, radiation in space. Space explorers need to be able to move and work without worrying about radiation. Dr. Oren Milstein, CEO and Co-founder of StemRad, has created a wearable radiation shielding vest that takes up minimal space and protects the most susceptible vital organs — like bone marrow, reproductive organs and lungs — from the harmful effects of radiation. 

Intro:

Inventors and their inventions Welcome to Radio Cade a podcast from the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention in Gainesville, Florida, the museum is named after James Robert Cade, who invented Gatorade in 1965. My name is Richard Miles. We'll introduce you to inventors and the things that motivate them, we'll learn about their personal stories, how their inventions work, and how their ideas get from the laboratory to the marketplace.

James Di Virgilio:

Welcome to Radio Cade, I'm your host, James Di Virgilio. We're exploring a series on space colonization. And today my guest is Dr. Oren Milstein. He's the CEO and co-founder of StemRad. And he's working with radiation. When dealing with deep space. Radiation is one of the most important challenges facing astronauts and colonization of not only the moon, but also Mars. Dr. Milstein, welcome to the program.

Dr. Oren Milstein:

Thank you, James. It's really great to be here.

James Di Virgilio:

Your research is fascinating. I think the best way for us to start out our discussion today is to talk about radiation in general. What is it? And why is it something that is so important to deal with?

Dr. Oren Milstein:

Radiation is a topic that people really don't know how to grasp . You don't feel it. You can't see it, it doesn't have a smell or a taste, but it's there it's like something almost mystical, I would say, but there is a way to measure it specifically ionizing radiation. It's ionizing because it creates occurrence. So it's creates ionized particles that generates current and that current is something measurable and you could actually compute different doses of radiation based on that current. So really what it is, it's photons. In most cases that strike, for example, a cell of the body and generate charge particles. In the case of the cell, it could be a free radicals that are able to create mutations within the DNA and therefore hinder a replication of that DNA and ultimately cause cell to undergo apoptosis or suicide, and also create higher susceptibility to cancer down the road

James Di Virgilio:

When we think of radiation, most Americans, especially they think of the nuclear power plants, three mile Island Fukushima and of course, Chernobyl, maybe in the largest sense they think of an atom bomb and all of these cases, if radiation strikes, can you see it? Is there a wave of radiation you see coming at you or is it something invisible?

Dr. Oren Milstein:

Radiation really is invisible in the spectrum that we're talking about. It's invisible. You have to understand that the ionizing radiation that we're talking about is basically just another portion of the spectrum of light. So it's invisible light . So to speak of a higher frequency that has penetrating power and wreak havoc within the tissue, that it, but it is a form of light and you have a spectrum, but that is not harmful at all. Within the spectrum of light arrange , that is not harmful. Is there a way to detect, well, basically radiation monitors sensors are what the modern world utilized to sense radiation. Back in the day of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and nobody had those capabilities. The radiation was just something that nobody even realized even the U.S. military had overexposed itself, not realizing until many years after the damage that was incurred in the soldiers unnecessarily. So , so we're very lucky to have radiation monitoring in place all around the world in a way that today these sensors, our network to the point where you can almost not smuggle irrigation, emitting device into the U S through its courts or airports without the government knowing about it.

James Di Virgilio:

And so let's take a look at it. Maybe the most famous example of radiation exposure that wasn't in wartime Chernobyl. I've had a chance to go to both Hiroshima and Chernobyl during the world's cup. I went and visited Chernobyl and Ukraine. It was an amazing experience, a sobering experience. And one that taught me a lot about something I didn't really know about, which is radiation, but while you're walking around the site of Chernobyl, they know here in this town of Pripyat where most of the hotspots are, right? So you've got your Geiger counter It's beeping, you're walking around, it's telling you what's there. And they'll say, Hey, don't walk over there. Here's a hotspot. Of course you can't see it. You would never know. You would have no idea, right ? What's around you. It's completely invisible. But if you were to stand on that spot for enough time, it would really obviously, as you mentioned, wreak havoc. So I know that someone you learned from that was formative in your experience was one of the first responders. And one of the only people in the outside Soviet union world to come assist with the victims of Chernobyl, what did he learn? And what did you learn from that experience of radiation directly into first responders and those that were helping to save people from that disaster?

Dr. Oren Milstein:

So really a Chernobyl was kind of like the inspiration for me that the start StemRad, even ahead of the Fukushima disaster, which served as the trigger for the founding of the company. I was deeply inspired by my professors by my PhD mentors experience Dr. Ira Reisner was basically on the tail end of his post- doctoral studies back in 1986, when he got a call that there's been a disaster in the USSR, we're talking about the days of the USSR still. And if he could get on a plane together with two U.S. physicians, Robert Peter Gale, and Dick Champlin, and try to treat those first responders that had gone in courageously and put out those fires within the reactor that exploded. If it could go out and treat them that the Russians, they don't have the capability to treat them. And that specifically my professor, Dr. Reisner during his research, he found a way to transplant bone marrow that is not identical and still get a good outcome. And bone marrow was what the Russians needed to save these courageous firefighters because they were exposed to doses that really specifically wiped out their bone marrow, the bone marrow, being the most sensitive organ in the body when it comes to radiation, the most sensitive tissue that was wiped out to the point where their blood counts were really low falling fast. That is the body blood factory after all. And the only remedy the Russians were smart to realize that was bone marrow transplant patients. So they went over, this is before there was even any kind of diplomatic relations between Israel and the USSR . So Dr. Reisner was obviously deterred from going there and frankly didn't even know how to go there. So they arranged for a plane for him that landed in Moscow. The first responders had been transferred to a hospital in Moscow, and that's where he together with two other scientific advisors for StemRad today, Robert Peter Gale and Dick Chamblin, they harvested bone marrow from siblings, from brothers and sisters. Bone marrow is only half identical. And they put that bone marrow through the process for which professor Reisner, that's his claim to fame, that this process of being able to remove immune cells specifically T-cells from within the bone marrow graft and in doing so enable tolerance so that the bone marrow graft given by the donor, in this case, brother, or sister to the recipient is accepted and not rejected within the body of the recipient. And also does not wreak havoc due to the presence of immune cells from the donor. So that was his specialty. But the only problem was that he had done this process only rabbits, very successfully. So he used certain molecule called peanut to gluten and actually to capture the T-cells from within the bone marrow graft . And they did that under conditions that were very difficult. He told me with very old age centrifuges in conditions that were only sending sterile. And this is the first time ever doing this in the human setting. And they're doing this to save about 25 people that would die without it basically walking dead people. And they went through an arduous process and they were able to harvest that bone marrow removed about 99% of the immune cells transplant into the recipient . Unfortunately though this only prolong their life by a few weeks, ultimately they did succumb to what we call graft versus host disease. So the remaining T-cells within the bone marrow, those that were not successfully eliminated from the bone marrow grafts , we're able to grow and expand and ultimately attack the recipients from the inside. Basically there wasn't graph rejection, but the graph rejected the recipients and ultimately they died. Most of them. I think they saved only two people using that methodology. So, the human setting is many times more challenging than the animal setting. You have to remember the rabbits and mice . I said that they're very uniform and their genetics, everything is almost binary in the way they respond. Either get no response or a full response. In humans, a lot more gray area. And yeah , that was a tragic outcome for that courageous effort , but left me with a thirst to try and solve the problem.

James Di Virgilio:

And you mentioned something there, very interesting. One major thing I learned in Chernobyl is there were a handful of people who responded early, were highly exposed to radiation, but did not succumb to it. And as far as I knew, no one really knows why that is. It's just that some people tend to be able to handle it better. And that's fascinating to me, that's sort of hard to understand, right? Because as the story you're describing, you have these invaders come into your body, they basically get into your bone marrow. They change, as you mentioned, what's going on in there. And then that's, what's going to wind up killing the patient. You're mentioning in your research to we're about to talk about, but can you speak for a second on how some people handle radiation better?

Dr. Oren Milstein:

Yeah. It's a very interesting topic that you were touching upon. Uh , we really don't have a very good answer. What we know is that there is a whole distribution in those responses. So the responsiveness of the tissue of the person to a certain level of dose varies in a very big way to the point that you're right. We do have what we call an LD 50 threshold, a dose at which 50% of the population would perish. But that's just kind of like a mean, or an average, that though . So you have those being five fevers, for example. So you would have 50% dying and 50% not buying at all, why you would be subscribed to one group rather than the other, we can't tell. But more than that, we have people that would die from doses as low as one grade or one seabird . If you use those units and then you have people that wouldn't die from eight seabirds , and these people are from the same populace without any very different background between the two. So it's really extreme that one could take potentially eightfold , more radiation than the other and still survive. Whereas the other succumbs and why this exists, nobody has a very good answer. There is a gender difference. Women are generally more susceptible to radiation than men. There is an age difference. Generally younger people, especially children are more susceptible than older people. There is a mass issue. Generally, if you have more body fat than you're more protected, that's for sure the case, if you compare an obese person to a very thin person and there'll be, this person would be clearly more resistant in a significant way, people must realize that mass blocks radiation and does so in a good way. So radiation is not something you cannot block. You can definitely block it. Just a matter of how much mass you need to block it. So I just touched upon a three or four factors creating this variability within the populace , but it can add up to the extreme where you're going to get people that are way more sensitive than the others.

James Di Virgilio:

I mean that's such a good 30,000 foot view of testing, anything medically, including something like COVID and you nailed it. Testing on animals is so much different than humans because each human is drastically different from another. And at times we don't even know why their defenses may hold up better, but it does make it a challenge, which is what makes your research. I think so fascinating. So you take these stories, we've just talked about, you begin to develop a strong interest in them. You do your own studies on mice, but you do something very unique, unexpected. Even when you read about it today, it doesn't seem to make any sense. Tell us what it was that you discovered.

Dr. Oren Milstein:

So basically I had a strong desire to make sure that no first responder doing the courageous act that had been then Chernobyl would wind up with a lack of bone marrow following exposure. And my initial idea was to harvest bone marrow from each first responder that would potentially go into a nuclear disaster worldwide and store that bone marrow in a place that should he needed, or she needed. It could be transfused in their bodies. Bone marrow is very amazing in the sense that a transplantation is something that is able to work. And in the case of transplantation, we don't transplant large amounts of bone marrow. We're talking about small amounts of bone marrow that are transplanted. So today a leukemia patient that receives a radiation therapy and his, or her team , this was a wiped out. Should you send that person home without any kind of transplantation , then that person would perish within a week or so. So he or she would die from the treatment, not from the cancer. So what we do today is we basically harvest bone marrow from an identical donor that is identified through the bone marrow registry. And that donor doesn't give all of his or her bone route . Doesn't get half, just give a small, a tiny percentage of the bone marrow up to 5% of the donor's bone marrow is given away. And that donor has lunch and goes home. Doesn't suffer the consequences of giving just 5% of his or her bone marrow. Whereas the recipient that's 5% or even lower, is able to replenish all of the bone marrow and all of the blood forming system to the point where that person lives for many years after due to that gift of life, so I thought quite nicely , why not harvest bone marrow from all of these courageous responders and freeze it, and whenever they need it, we transplant it. And then you wouldn't have the problem of locating an identical donor because each potential victim would already have his own bone marrow stored. I started looking at doing that, but that turned out to be a potential logistical nightmare to harvest bone marrow from so many potential individuals around the world who really don't know who is going to be going in, where at what given point in time to save the day when the numbers add up, it gets to millions of people. They would have to harvest bone marrow from. And then you look at the side effects of harvesting bone marrow that one to 10,000, you have severe complications. So you're looking at a situation where for sure you're going to have in the process of trying to save these people already severe complications . So I just went back to research and continued working on mice with my research was basically finding ways to enable engraftment of bone marrow. That is not identical, basically to induce tolerance towards mismatched bone marrow grafts . And then I stumbled upon an amazing observation that whenever I was irradiating the mice, there were some times mice that would survive even without bone marrow transplantation, maybe one to 10 mice or so they would just go on and live without any transplant. And I'd tried to figure out what was going on. And then I learned that in the process of irradiating, sometimes I leave a segment of a mouse outside of the radiation field, and that segment could be as minimal as just the pale of the mouse . So it was enough for me to leave the tail of the mouse outside of the radiation field to have that mouse recover from radiation injury without introducing new bone marrow into that mouse. And ultimately what I figured out and what was basically also established in the literature that bone marrow within the vertebrae in the tail of the mouse is of a quantity that is in excess of what is necessary to survive. And that quantity is two and a half percent. So you need as little as two and a half percent of your bodily bone marrow. I assume it could say it's identical and it's not rejected and no complications to regrow your bone marrow and return to normal blood counts and as little as one month. So that was basically my understanding that if you can save a person by introducing so little identical bone marrow into his or her body, why not protect that same amount of bone marrow within the body of the first responder while he or she is responding to an event. And that is something that I really latched on because I realized that it solved a big, big problem. The problem of being able to shield from radiation, how do you shield from radiation in a way that you don't inhibit the performance of the first responder? Sure, you can put the first responder in a nuclear bunker, but that won't do so well for his job definition. And the past people have tried to invent suits that protect all the body, but these suits do very little to block the radiation. Even a 100 pound suit, a 200 pound suit will do nothing to block gamma radiation because that mask would be spread out throughout your whole body. But given this finding that it's enough to protect the bone marrow, to get recovery of the individual, we can focus shielding just on where bone marrow is. And then I studied the distribution of bone marrow within the human body, the amazingly good 50% of the body's bone marrow resides within the hip region of the individual. And that lends itself to the personal protective equipment that we later developed. Because now you don't have to this mask all over the body of the individual, you can focus a significant amount of shielding on a specific area of the body. So our product is called three 60 gamma product. What it does, it puts basically about 15 kilograms or about 30 pounds of mass around a minimal area of the body, as small as 11% of the body surface area. And in doing so you basically create protection. That's on par with a suit that would weigh half a ton. So these half ton suits were never brought to market because it would never work. But this solution is something that I felt was reasonable and it could be very meaningful for protection of first responders.

James Di Virgilio:

What you said there is mind boggling on so many levels. You go back to the Chernobyl story and there was true, just incredible heroic acts that occurred that you learned about there from people that lived in Ukraine that were living under the USSR that were not fans at all of the Soviet union that knew that in their community, they had people that were in trouble that knew they were going to die. That went in right underneath the reactor, right into the reactor long exposures to save other people's lives, truly moving stuff. They did so wearing rudimentary hazmat suit or what people think of when they think of people going into a nuclear disaster. But what you're describing is basically like a back brace, or if you like to lift weights, something you would use when you're squatting, it's very minimal, it's wearable. You can go in. And this discovery you're saying that you can protect the main part of your bone marrow, which is in your pelvic region, as you mentioned. And just by protecting that from radiation, your body then is able to fend off the rest of the radiation you receive in the rest of your body. That's essentially what's happening right?

Dr. Oren Milstein:

In effect. The result is exactly what you described, at the biological level what happens is that the bone marrow that is rescued by this shielding within the hip region is able to proliferate to multiply in the hours and days and weeks following the exposure. And then when it reaches a certain level, then the cells, the bone marrow STEM cells, if you will, they're able to enter the bloodstream. They leave the bone cavity and they migrate into the bloodstream. And then they know how to hone directly towards bones that were wiped out by the radiation. And then they settle within these empty bones. If you take the bone, you take a cross section , you can see after the radiation it's empty and these small cells know how to repopulate these empty areas. And they proliferate like mad. So on average, each STEM cell is giving you 10,000 better cells. And that process goes on until the bone are full of red prosperous bone marrow within as little as one month.

James Di Virgilio:

That's incredible quite the discovery. And a question comes to mind, in the Chernobyl disaster as in space, which we're about to talk about. You had very limited times, you could have a worker go in. Now, the Russians were incredibly rudimentary. They were essentially making things up. There's a road in Pripyat out that they knew was heavily radiated. And they would say, drive 110 miles an hour, get out of your car, spend exactly four minutes, cleaning something up, get back in, get out. Right? That was obviously a bad idea, but there is a reality that there's only so much time, a first responder should be spending in an environment like this. Does the gamma three 60 belt, ss this able to allow first responders to spend more time saving people without changing a shift? Or is it a scenario where they spend the same amount of time? They just have protection. Now we know that 15 minutes will be safe, so to speak.

Dr. Oren Milstein:

So that's a question that we get from our customers all the time. So they want to know how much longer they can stay in. And what I like to answer is that even in Chernobyl, they were very cognizant of the radiation. It's not sometimes the first responders are portrayed as, as people that didn't know anything about the radiation just went in blindly. No, they knew very well. And actually they went in, in shifts of 12 minutes, in Chernobyl and those 12 minutes had everything been like a uniform spread of the radiation. It would have been okay. But what happened was they went in and groups of let's say 10 people with only the commander observing his radiation monitor and the other nine spread out on the roof of the reactor. So the problem is that the radiation deposits or the radioactive material, the fall out was not uniformly present on the roof of the reactor. You had piles of debris, highly radioactive, but then you had the areas that were not so radioactive because the radiation dose, the dose rates declines exponentially with distance, right? So if you increase your distance twofold from the pile of rubble , then the radiation decreases fourfold . So what do you see is a crazy distribution of sickness within this group of 10, you would have seven that are unscathed really. And then three that were standing near the rebel, even for a few seconds. And they received that high dose of radiation. It's really a matter of uniform or non-uniform exposure. So with these first responders, they can never know if it's going to be uniform or non-uniform and therefore they must have protections. My pitch to customers is go in as you plan to go in under the assumption of uniform radiation, but should it not be uniform you're protected. To what extent you're protected theoretically? You could stay twice as long as what you would have without the protection. But I would never add to the case for the first responders to go in longer than what they had planned. I just want them to go in knowing that even if their plan was not accurate given the circumstances, there able to survive.

James Di Virgilio:

Yeah. And that's definitely a comfort, like you mentioned, in Chernobyl, all those first responders, there's a monument to the firefighters nearby who all perished, you went in knowing exactly what they were doing.

Dr. Oren Milstein:

They all knew exactly what they were doing,

James Di Virgilio:

Right. Knowing it was a death sentence.

Dr. Oren Milstein:

There are a lot of people belittling how much they knew, especially in America, the USSR was not the perfect place, but you had people that were heroes there. And these people were heroes.

James Di Virgilio:

Yeah true heroes. And again, people that politically oftentimes did not align at all with what was being done, had to go in, could have attempted to run away, fight, take whatever punishment, but they didn't. They responded immediately knowing that death was certainly the sentence and attempt to rescue others, really amazing stuff. And your innovation obviously is helping that. And now we're going to talk about space and space colonization. So astronauts of course are facing radiation. Right? Once we leave the Earth's atmosphere in the magnetic field, the radiation gets to be serious. It gets to be much more serious. The closer we get to the sun, as we have cosmic galactic radiation, that's bad, that's really bad stuff. Right? Solar flares, things like that. So you had to develop something that was a little bit different, right? You couldn't have used the personal protection device in the same way. Instead you developed device that had to be a little heavier, a little bulkier, but still does the same thing. What were some of the challenges for developing protection in space?

Dr. Oren Milstein:

So that was a tremendous shift in the company's overall outlook to the market from dealing with a, the worst case scenario of a nuclear disaster. Suddenly we're also dealing with the best case scenario of sending people to Mars. And that's what NASA wants to do today. So being involved in both worlds really creates a great sense of fulfillment. But to your question, the technical challenges were quite significant, but surprisingly, not something that we could not overcome. And I saw we could from day one. So we collaborated with Lockheed Martin who was building the spacecraft to take people back to the moon and onto Mars and lucky for me to have good physicists working for me. And it was very apparent to us that the radiation threatening space is quite different than the radiation threat here on earth. You're concerned less about gamma radiation, more about radiation emanating from the sun and from the galaxy and this radiation, and this is something I didn't know, actually going in is not photons. You're talking about actual particles ion , mostly hydrogen plus. So H plus particles that are huge compared to photon . So you're talking about something that millions of times larger than a photon, huge particles and coming at energies much higher than that, of a photon and gamma radiation. So it sounds very scary and I thought going in wow, but the very quick, I was comforted to know that even though they're so energetic, because they're so big, you're able to block them, you're able to shield against them. So they don't seep in easily through the atoms in the shielding material like photons do. So photons are able to seep through bathrooms of the led in the shielding here. They're so big, it's pretty easy to trap them. Now the best material for trapping photons here on earth is lead. Specifically Virgin lead. That is pure lead. That's what we use in a three 60 gamma solution, but in space, should you use the lead? You're going to create what we call secondary radiation. So the particles are going to strike the lead , then create a gamma wave or an alpha wave or a better wave, which going to be dangerous in itself. So better to use what we call low Z materials . So atoms, with a smaller number of protons within them and an atom with the smallest number of protons is obviously hydrogen. So use hydrogen to block hydrogen. That's basically what we're looking at today. So we basically used almost, I would say off the shelf, polymers such as polyethylene, you could even use water by the way, any material that is rich and hydrogen is able to effectively block hydrogen atoms or ions coming from the sun with creating minimal secondary radiation. So that was one challenge. The material challenge was easily overcome. And then we had the whole issue of what are you going to protect? Are you going to protect the same organs they are protecting here on earth? Or are you going to look at the picture a bit differently here ? So, given the nature of the relation space, we were actually driven in the direction of looking at a bit differently because you do have the threat of a high dose coming from the sun, just like a high dose coming from a Chernobyl reactor. That creates what we call acute radiation syndrome, which is wiping out the bone marrow and deaths within a month or two, but in parallel, you also have radiation coming from the galaxy, what we call galactic, cosmic rays, and they're coming in regardless of any sun activity. And it's a constant bombardment of ion sometimes bigger than hydrogen has a biggest lead by the way, coming in from supernova in the galaxy. But they're coming in at a very low dose rate . But if you're looking at a long duration mission, not the mission of a week to the moon, like the Apollo astronauts , but a mission to Mars, that's a three year round trip, then you'd better try and mitigate as much of that low level, dose as well. So here we realized we'd be better off having a solution that protects against both . So having something that is able to minimize the chance of acute radiation syndrome, vis-a-vis Chernobyl, but also help as much as you can in the dose. That's incoming on a daily basis over the duration of three years. So working with Lockheed Martin and given the luxury of microgravity , we decided to expand upon the three 60 gamma solution and going from a hit belt, we went all the way up to a vest , a vest that protects from under the hip and all the way into the chin of the astronauts and in doing so, protecting the bomber, but also vital organs, such as the lungs, such as the stomach and the gastrointestinal system. And in the woman also the very sensitive breast tissue and ovaries, and in doing so you're shielding the bone marrow and preventing that horrible death like in Chernobyl, but also contributing to the reduction of the likelihood of cancer within those organs in a very significant way. So what we have is instead of a heavy metal like lead , we have polyethylene instead of just the belt , we have a whole vest .

James Di Virgilio:

And what is this vest way ? And are the astronauts wearing this every day? Only when they go out for a space walk, what does that look like?

Dr. Oren Milstein:

Yes, that's something that is still evolving. As far as how they're going to use it, but the weight is 27 kilograms for a larger male, maybe 22 kilograms for a smaller frame, female. So ballpark 50 to 60 pounds of mass. But bear in mind that it's just mass. There is no weight in space and we're using that to our benefits . It's never too heavy. So whenever I wear this vest here on earth, it's pretty bad. But in the ISS, we have one vest on the station right now, circling earth, there it's meaningless, but what is not getting less is the launch mass . So you want it to be light for the purpose of not burdening the launch with the additional mass that you could avoid. So having it weigh not as much is a big boom for whoever's launching this mass in this case, the NASA where it costs a crazy amount of money to launch mass for the lunar environment outside of earth gravity, well, it's currently $50,000 per pound. So any pounds you can take off the weight of the garment is really appreciated. And we've done that. So we've capitalized on the body self shielding. So we will be realized that you want to protect all these organs, but some of the organs are more protected naturally than others. Meaning that you have organs that are more concealed by the body's tissue than others. On one extreme, you have the woman's breast tissue, which is completely exposed to the outside environment. So you need to have a lot of artificial shielding. So that's where the vest is really thick , but then you have areas that are naturally concealed, like parts of the gastrointestinal tract, like parts of the bone marrow, specifically the anterior bone marrow is quite well shielded. So we created a variable thickness that accommodates the natural shielding properties of the body and in doing so, we reduced the potential mass of about 50 kilograms to just 27 kilograms. And that's part of our patents that was also employed in the 360 gamma solution that had we not utilized this understanding, but then it would have been almost twice as heavier and really a no-go for first responders.

James Di Virgilio:

That's really interesting stuff. Weight, obviously anyone who's a pilot understands the importance of weight , even here just flying right. Sub the Earth's atmosphere, low orbit, and then of course, going to space even more so $50,000 per pound, you just shaved off 25 pounds. I know you're saving a couple million dollars there. So looking at how to use it, I want to go back to that. You mentioned we're not totally sure how to use this yet. So NASA space X, anyone working on space exploration has to deal with what you just mentioned, shielding the spacecraft from radiation, and then also shielding those who are living at the astronauts any dwelling you build any structure you have, they must be shielded. So do we have any suggested ideas of how we would use these vest once we're up in space? I land on Mars. What is my daily life potentially looking like when it comes to radiation?

Dr. Oren Milstein:

Right. Initially I was thinking that this would be worn only during solar particle events, what we call SPE and layman term, maybe solar flare is more acceptable. These events occur on average a couple of times a year, and usually they're benign, but sometimes they're quite awful on the magnitude of going in such a Chernobyl reactor . And the problem with these eruptions of the sun is that they're really not foreseeable. There is a correlation with the number of dark spots that you count on the sun, but sometimes it could be like very few dark spots, but still you have a solar particle events and astronauts they have just between 30 minutes and one hour warning before it hits them. That is a small amount of time, but we feel it's enough time for the astronauts to be able to wear their vests. Should they be on hand. And then they have to wear it for the duration of the solar particle events , which could be a day, which is pretty long in itself, but it could be up to two weeks. And that's where the product comfort comes into play. There are dynamics of the product and that's exactly what's being tested on ISS right now. Is, is this something that you can wear for more than a day for more than a week, maybe even, and that's something that's being tested. We invested a lot of effort making it comfortable and flexible. It's comprised of 15,000 parts that each part moves independently of the other so that you create a fluid like motion. It's a really nice, very nice solution that we hope to also display at the Academy museum very shortly. But to answer your question, yes, whenever there's a solar particle event , it will be worn, but from talking with astronauts more and more, I realized that if they find it comfortable, they're going to wear it whenever they go to bed. Even if there's not a solar particle event , just to avoid the background radiation that I mentioned from the supernova, as much as they can, no , they won't wear it for the whole mission because at the end of the day, it is quite a bulky garment, but they're going to wear it whenever it's critical, vis-a-vis solar particle events, or when they're sleeping. That's a vision that I currently have on the way to Mars. You're looking at a three year mission. You can have solar particle events on the way there when you're there. And on the way back, they're going to have at least a handful of solar particle events. It's going to be very important to have the vest on hand, to prevent in an extreme case fatalities during the mission in a more likely case to reduce the likelihood probability of cancer in their bodies, years after their mission is done.

James Di Virgilio:

And it begs the question, why not shield the structure they're in or the spacecraft they're in from these types of radiation events? Is it a weight issue? Why not create a coating on the craft or the dwelling?

Dr. Oren Milstein:

So that was really the direction of many, many scientists over the years. I would say that there were a few that try to do what we're doing. Those people that tried, that didn't have our methodology of selection , shielding. But to answer your question, why not shield the whole craft? Well, we calculated that to get the same effect on the Orion capsule, which is massive flagship to the moon and beyond built by Lockheed Martin. So you can either take four vests in aggregate weigh about 200 pounds, or you can add 14 tons to the shielding, of the vehicle. So that's basically the number we're looking at. The comparison is extreme. You just would have to double the weight of the vehicle, going back to the calculus of how much a pound or a kilogram costs to deep space, about $50,000 for a pound. The number becomes catastrophic for any organization. That's trying to go outside of earth gravity well. So it's really not possible at all. At least if you're doing it on earth, if you're doing it on the moon, now you can send an unshielded that aircraft and possibly shield it on the moon. And then the gravity well is not so bad and go on to Mars, but you're talking about a very difficult situation compared to having these vests on hand.

James Di Virgilio:

Quite elegant solution, as you just mentioned, there's potentially no exploration of Mars at all, unless you have a way to do it more efficiently. And that's exactly what this solution is providing. You can see this vest for yourself, if you Google Astro rad, it'll pop right up. You can see images of it. People actually wearing it. Get a look forward of course, as you mentioned, you guys are on like kind of the final tweaking phase to see what's it going to look like? How might you reshape it? But it's quite remarkable. Obviously space colonization is going to be something that amazingly, it still feels amazing to me, right in our lifetimes is pushing forward rather aggressively to hear your story today, Dr. Milstein going through Chernobyl radiation, bone marrow space. It all seems so big, but remarkably you're answering a lot of questions in ways that are quite compelling using evidence to back up what you found. Just absolutely fascinating stuff. It's been great to have conversations with you. We at the Cade look forward to potentially seeing some of your stuff here on exhibit at the museum. Obviously we look forward to keeping in touch with you, Dr. Milstein, CEO, co-founder of StemRad. Again, you can find this stuff online. Definitely check it out. Thanks for being with us today. Quite the insightful episode.

Dr. Oren Milstein:

No thank you, James. It was a pleasure talking with you and I hope that information is going to help other innovators and entrepreneurs and making the mission even safer.

Outro:

Radio Cade is produced by the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention located in Gainesville, Florida. This podcast episodes host was James Di Virgilio and Ellie Thom coordinates inventor interviews, podcasts are recorded at Heartwood Soundstage, and edited and mixed by Bob McPeak . The Radio Cade theme song was produced and performed by Tracy Collins and features violinist, Jacob Lawson.