Is lunar dust harmful to humans?

Penzberg, Germany, 14. April 2011

Roche’s xCELLigence System used to investigate effects of lunar and Martian dust on mammalian skin

Exposure to lunar dust during the Apollo missions resulted in reports of ocular, respiratory and dermal irritation, suggesting that lunar dust is a potential risk to human health. Because it is highly reactive and fine, extraterrestrial dust can quickly become wide-spread in human habitats. To best support future missions to the moon, Mars and other destinations, the health risk of extraterrestrial dust needs to be assessed. A team of scientists headed by Klaudia Brix, an expert in cell biology and skin regeneration at Jacobs University in Bremen, recently conducted a study (Rehders et. al, Advances in Space Research, doi:10.1016/j.asr.2010.11.033) using the xCELLigence System from Roche Diagnostics, providing extensive information about the effects of extraterrestrial lunar dusts on human health.

In this study, the research team evaluated the effects of extraterrestrial dusts on mammalian skin. HaCaT keratinocytes and CHO-K1 fibroblasts were exposed for various periods of time to dusts that simulate lunar or Martian soils. Particular attention was paid to changes in cell morphology and cell viability. Keratinocytes and fibroblasts were used because human skin protects the human body from potentially harmful substances and is also where wound healing occurs. Real-time, label-free cytotoxicity measurements were made by continually monitoring cell impedance using the xCELLigence System and performing the Roche MTT assay. In addition, phalloidin staining of the actin cytoskeleton and propidium iodide uptake assays were performed to investigate cellular structural integrity.

By looking at various functions of the two cell lines, the researchers were able to identify two types of simulated lunar dust: Following exposure to the simulated lunar dust, HaCaT keratinocyte proliferation, analyzed using Ki67 labeling, was suppressed in sub-confluent cultures, and regeneration of keratinocyte monolayers after a scratch wound was also found to be delayed. In particular, the finding that extraterrestrial dust exposure has a negative effect on wound healing will result in additional risk assessment studies when planning lunar lander extraterrestrial exploration. These important results will help scientists organize appropriate safety measures that will minimize the risks to human health when human skin is exposed to lunar or Martian dust on extraterrestrial missions.

About Roche

Headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, Roche is a leader in research-focused healthcare with combined strengths in pharmaceuticals and diagnostics. Roche is the world’s largest biotech company with truly differentiated medicines in oncology, virology, inflammation, metabolism and CNS. Roche is also the world leader in in-vitro diagnostics, tissue-based cancer diagnostics and a pioneer in diabetes management. Roche’s personalized healthcare strategy aims at providing medicines and diagnostic tools that enable tangible improvements in the health, quality of life and survival of patients. In 2010, Roche had over 80,000 employees worldwide and invested over 9 billion Swiss francs in R&D. The Group posted sales of 47.5 billion Swiss francs. Genentech, United States, is a wholly owned member of the Roche Group. Roche has a majority stake in Chugai Pharmaceutical, Japan. For more information:

About Jacobs University Bremen

Jacobs University, a private English-language residential university in Bremen, Germany, was opened in 2001 and is distinguished by its international orientation and highly selective admission based on the candidates’ academic and personal potential. Dedicated to excellence, the university’s research and teaching span a broad range of fields in engineering, the natural, life, and social sciences. A student-to-faculty ratio of 10:1 and state-of-the-art equipment allow for optimum academic conditions. The cultural diversity of the students, currently about 1300 representing more than 100 nations, creates an ideal environment to foster intercultural competence.
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