In space, drugs don't dull the pain as well

The effectiveness of drugs declines more rapidly in space than on Earth. The chronic radiation and special repackaging could be causing the damage.
Written by Janet Fang, Contributor

Last week, I ate some cake (a Cake Boss creation, pictured) at the Kennedy Space Center in Orlando to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Program.

The center also has a new simulator called the Shuttle Launch Experience where you’re strapped down and vertically launched into space. It feels a little like a bad hangover, but fun. What they don't show you, however, is that drugs to numb headaches lose their potency in space.

In a new NASA-funded study, researchers show that painkilling and infection-fighting medicines degrade faster in space than they do on Earth.

They compared the physical and chemical changes over time in 35 medicines contained in identical pharmaceutical kits stowed on the International Space Station (ISS) and on Earth.

These included antibiotics and pain-relievers like amoxicillin and Ibuprofen. Their shelf life, when stored in dry, cool conditions and out of direct sunlight, is usually up to 2 years.

After stowage for 28 months in space, 4 kits were examined for their active pharmaceutical content (API) using liquid chromatography:

  • 6 medications aboard the ISS, compared with just 2 of the matching ground controls at NASA Johnson Space Center, exhibited changes in physical variables.
  • 9 medications from the ISS, compared with 17 from the ground, met the US Pharmacopeia (USP) acceptance criteria for API content.

The number of medications failing API requirement increased with time in space, regardless of their expiration date.

The study suggests 2 possible causes:

  • Levels of ionizing radiation dose was higher and increased with time in space (although temperature and humidity remained similar to those on the ground).
  • The repackaging of solids in flight-specific dispensers may adversely affect the stability of pharmaceuticals.

This information could help scientists develop space-hardy medications for astronauts on long missions, such as those to Mars.

On the other hand, the authors also found that space has at least one benefit for shelf life; with all that CO2, the degradation of medicines prone to oxidation – like adrenaline and vitamins C and A – could be minimized.

The study was published in the journal of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists. The team included researchers from Wyle Integrated Science and Engineering Group and Johnson Space Center.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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