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Drugs lose their effectiveness in space

by Nicole
April 23, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Astronauts going into space for very long missions may not use paracetamol for a headache, or antibiotics to fight infection.

Researchers at Johnson Space Center have shown that drugs become less effective when used in space.

Continuous doses of radiation onboard the spacecraft could be the cause for medicines losing their qualities, according to a new study. The author of the study says that long space flights will increase the need for the use of drugs in such circumstances.

On Earth, the drugs were designed to be stored years since the manufacture date and they need special storage conditions: away from direct sunlight, away from moisture and heat.

Researchers have investigated the special conditions in space – radiation, excessive vibrations, microgravity, an environment rich in carbon dioxide and changes in temperature and humidity in order to discover which are their effects on the efficiency of drugs.

Four boxes containing 35 different drugs were sent into space to the International Space Station and four other identical boxes were kept in special conditions at the Johnson Space Center.

The boxes were returned to Earth after different periods of time – one of the boxes was in space for only 13 days, while another spent about 28 months on the space station.

The study showed that a large number of the tested drugs were less effective after storage in space. This reduction in the efficiency of drugs took place earlier than the expiry date stated on the label and showed that drugs stored in space may affect the stability of pharmaceuticals.

Doctor Colin Cable, science information adviser at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, says, “On Earth, medicines are tested to assess the effects of, for example, temperature, moisture, oxygen and light, and are packaged and stored to ensure they remain stable and effective over their shelf life. Repackaging of medicines into containers that do not give the medicines the protection required to moisture, oxygen and light can have a detrimental effect on their stability.”

“One potential benefit of keeping medicines in a Space Station is that the medicines will be exposed to a carbon dioxide-rich environment, this may help minimize the degradation of those medicines prone to oxidation, such as adrenaline, vitamin C and vitamin A,” concluded Dr. Colin Cable.

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