Radiobiological damage by space radiation: extension of the BIANCA model to heavy ions up to iron, and pilot application to cosmic ray exposure

J Radiol Prot. 2022 May 4;42(2). doi: 10.1088/1361-6498/ac6991.


Space research seems to be object of a renewed interest, also considering that human missions to the Moon, and possibly Mars, are being planned. Among the risks affecting such missions, astronauts' exposure to space radiation is a major concern. In this work, the question of the evaluation of biological damage by Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCR) was addressed by a biophysical model called BIophysical ANalysis of Cell death and chromosome Aberrations (BIANCA), which simulates the induction of cell death and chromosome aberrations by different ions. While previously BIANCA has been validated for calculating cell death along hadrontherapy beams up to oxygen, herein the approach was extended up to Fe ions. Specifically, experimental survival curves available in literature for V79 cells irradiated by Si-, Ne-, Ar- and Fe-ions were reproduced, and a reference radiobiological database describing V79 cell survival as a function of ion type (1 ⩽Z⩽ 26), energy and dose was constructed. Analogous databases were generated for Chinese hamster ovary hamster cells and human skin fibroblasts, finding good agreement between simulations and data. Concerning chromosome aberrations, which are regarded as radiation risk biomarkers, dicentric data in human lymphocytes irradiated by heavy ions up to iron were reproduced, and a radiobiological database allowing calculation of lymphocyte dicentric yields as a function of dose, ion type (1 ⩽Z⩽ 26) and energy was constructed. Following interface between BIANCA and the FLUKA Monte Carlo transport code, a feasibility study was performed to calculate the relative biological effectiveness (RBE) of different GCR spectrum components, for both dicentrics and cell death. Fe-ions, although representing only 10% of the total absorbed dose, were found to be responsible for about 35%-40% of the RBE-weighted dose. Interestingly, the RBE for dicentrics was higher than that for cell survival. More generally, this work shows that BIANCA can calculate RBE values for cell death and lymphocyte dicentrics not only for ion therapy, but also for space radiation.

Keywords: Monte Carlo; biophysical modelling; cell death; chromosomal aberrations; space radiation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CHO Cells
  • Cell Death
  • Chromosome Aberrations
  • Cosmic Radiation* / adverse effects
  • Cricetinae
  • Cricetulus
  • Heavy Ions*
  • Humans
  • Iron


  • Iron