Researchers from the University of Adelaide are soon to be studying the effects that the harsh space environment has on everyday medication, in the hopes to better optimise the applications of medicine in space - preparing for future long-term missions beyond Earth’s atmosphere.
To do so, researchers will be analysing the impacts that space has had on a batch of medication that has been previously sent to the International Space Station (ISS). The batch of sixty tablets was launched in September 2020 onboard the Cygnus NG-14 mission, remaining on the ISS for just over a year, enclosed inside SpaceTango’s CubeLab. They returned to Earth on the SpaceX CRS-23 Dragon capsule this month. From there, they will be transported to a research team at the University of Adelaide for analysis.
This project is conducted in tandem with another batch of ibuprofen tablets, which was launched to the ISS in February 2021 aboard an NG-15 mission. They were placed on the outside of the ISS for six months.
For both missions, the pills consist of a special formulation of ibuprofen, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug commonly used for pain relief, in combination with additional excipients such as iron oxide. These heavier atoms protect the active ingredient against the deleterious effects of the space environment. For example, iron oxide has the ability to scavenge high-energy particles from the Sun, which are hypothesised to reduce the efficacy and concentration of the active ingredient.
“Collecting data on medicine stabilisation for long-term space missions will help us direct future on-orbit and on-demand production of medicines,” said the University of Adelaide’s Professor Volker Hessel, Professor in the School of Chemical Engineering and Advanced Materials.
Space research is one of the university’s key industry engagement priorities as set out in its strategic plan Future Making. Part of this strategy was the establishment of the Andy Thomas Centre for Space Resources, of which Professor Hessel is the Research Director.