Biomarkers for psychological adaptation to extreme environments for future space flight: Related genes in blood-based in vitro research

Carole Urlings, Sarah Baatout, Angelique Van Ombergen, Nicholas Rajan, Bjorn Baselet

Research output


Space missions as we know them are changing. An increasing number of Space Agencies and private firms are looking towards long-duration crewed missions to the Moon and Mars. Given that space is a very hostile environment for humans and living on a spacecraft can be dangerous, it is important for astronauts going through such an extreme environment to be prepared for what they might encounter. This includes preparation and countermeasures for not only physical health but also mental health. One way to prevent psychological emergencies or psychiatric disorders from occurring or to treat them if they do happen is to look at biological markers that can show a person’s susceptibility to certain disorders. These biological markers might also be found in our genetics, in certain genes showing a predisposition of sensitivity toward stress. This thesis is focused on discovering such biological markers in the human genetic makeup, using large quantities of validated and reliable public data to find genes that are the most likely to be related to psychiatric stress disorders. After choosing several of these genes, they are experimentally tested by looking at their behavior in response to physiological mimics of psychological stress. After finding several unexpected results in this behavior, an extra validation is performed by including broader data sets and more narrowed-down information. This process results in a proposed list of 53 biomarkers that can form the basis for future research, as well as three genes from the experiment that show promise. The link between space flight and different psychiatric disorders, specifically post-traumatic stress disorder, will hopefully serve as a stepping stone to emphasize the importance of astronauts’ psychological health and performance.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationMaster of Science
Awarding Institution
  • KU Leuven
  • Universiteit Gent
  • Baatout, Sarah, Supervisor
  • Van Ombergen, Angelique, Supervisor, External person
  • Rajan, Nicholas, SCK CEN Mentor
  • Baselet, Bjorn, SCK CEN Mentor
Date of Award28 Jun 2024
StatePublished - 28 Jun 2024

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