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University of Iowa News Release


Oct. 5, 2006

UI Scientists Receive NASA Grant

Fiorenza Ianzini, Ph.D., assistant professor of pathology in the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, has received a three-year, $900,000 grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to study the relationship between high-LET radiation, which is found in space, and cancer.

Ianzini's project is one of 12 research studies being funded by NASA as part of the agency's Space Radiation Program. The overall goal of the program is to better understand and counteract the risks posed to astronauts by space radiation. Exposure to high-LET radiation in the form of high-energy protons, heavy ions and secondary byproducts of space radiation may be harmful to human tissue and DNA and could cause cancers or degenerative tissue diseases. Radiation hazards in space include solar flares (or solar particle events), geomagnetically trapped radiation, galactic cosmic radiation and secondary radiation.

The UI team will investigate whether high-LET radiation can cause carcinogenic DNA mutations by disrupting normal cell division through a process known as mitotic catastrophe.

The new study builds on previous research by Ianzini, who also holds a secondary appointment in the UI College of Engineering Department of Biomedical Engineering, and her colleagues. The research showed that irradiated human cell lines do not always lose their ability to divide. Instead, these damaged cells continue to divide for many generations after exposure to radiation, becoming a potential focal spot for cancer development.

"We will test whether high-LET radiation leads to an enhanced incidence of mitotic catastrophe, whether a small proportion of irradiated cells undergoing mitotic catastrophe escape death and form viable colonies, and whether DNA damage is persistent in cells that survive mitotic catastrophe, making these cells prone to transformation and cancer," said Ianzini.

The UI team's experiments aimed at studying cell survival after irradiation will rely heavily on the Large Scale Digital Cell Analysis System (LSDCAS), an automated, state-of-the-art, live-cell imaging system developed by Ianzini and Michael A. Mackey, Ph.D., UI associate professor of biomedical engineering and pathology and a co-investigator on the NASA grant. In a single experiment, the system can monitor tens of thousands of individual cells for weeks following irradiation, allowing for the detection of rare events in the cell population. The LSDCAS is a core research facility at the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the UI. Ianzini is the core facility's director.

In addition to Ianzini and Mackey, the UI team includes, Elizabeth A. Kosmacek, a graduate student in biomedical engineering, and Christina L. Sjogren, a research assistant in Ianzini's laboratory.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5135 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

PHOTO: A photo of Dr. Ianzini can be found at

CONTACT: Jennifer Brown, 319-335-9917