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Medicine Space Science

Medicines Lose Effectiveness In Space 116

An anonymous reader writes "Scientists at the Johnson Space Center have shown that the effectiveness of drugs declines more rapidly in space. Engineers are working on a project which could bring space travel to the general public but experiments suggest that the health hazards facing astronauts may be greater than previously thought. Astronauts on long space missions may not be able to take paracetamol to treat a headache or antibiotics to fight infection, a study has found. I wonder if diseases are also affected?"
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Medicines Lose Effectiveness In Space

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  • by newcastlejon ( 1483695 ) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @09:39AM (#35847344)

    From TFA:

    The research team investigated whether the unique environment of space - including radiation, excessive vibrations, microgravity, a carbon dioxide rich environment and variations in humidity and temperature - affected drugs' effectiveness.

    How about putting them in a box?

    Apart from radiation I don't see how the other environmental issues are unique to space.

    How would microgravity affect chemical compounds? We've known for a while about bone decalcification and muscle atrophy but I always ascribed such things to the fact that astronauts aren't standing on solid ground or exercising as they are on Earth. It's not as though the proteins and whatnot in their bodies are discombobulating while they're up there, is it?

    • by cpghost ( 719344 ) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @09:53AM (#35847412) Homepage

      How about putting them in a box?

      Exactly. And if microgravity is a problem (I fail to see how it could be), put that box in a small centrifuge to create constant 1g.

      • Exactly. And if microgravity is a problem (I fail to see how it could be), put that box in a small centrifuge to create constant 1g.

        Please explain to me how this would work. The point is for it to experience microgravity. How do you spin something so that it constantly counters the Earth's gravity? If the axis of rotation is perpendicular to the direction of g, you end up with 1.4g at 45 degrees off the axis of rotation. If the axis is in line with g then you end up with 0g at the top of the rotation and 2g

    • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @09:58AM (#35847428) Homepage

      That throbbing red circle you see on the TV adverts for pills actually becomes cone-shaped in space. This means the pill atoms are the wrong shape to be effective. Redesigning them would be prohibitively expensive even for NASA.

      Plus, they're very hard to swallow in microgravity.

      • Plus, they're very hard to swallow in microgravity.

        Fine, then take it intravenously, or as a suppository (seriously), or as drops under the tongue, or as a liquid suspension. There are a number of ways to make drugs as easy to take (in space) as eating/drinking anything else.

        • by Luckyo ( 1726890 )

          Intravenous has serious issues in space (controlling drops of blood, air in the tubes, etc).

          Suppositories could work, but I'm not closely familiar with them - granted we (as in humanity as a whole) do have expertise in Japan however where they are significantly more popular then in the rest of the world.

          • In dutch a suppository is also know a "poepsnoepje" or "ass-candy." True story.

            Putting in a suppository would be really awkward in a place with little or no privacy and it seems to me like it would be a little difficult to perform in microgravity too, unless you're willing to have a colleague do it.

            • Somehow I think that if a team of astronauts is spending several months together in a cramped, hot, strange-smelling canister, eating together, sleeping together, working together, and going to the bathroom together, taking a suppository isn't a big deal.
            • by Luckyo ( 1726890 )

              Reads as "poop snoop" to those not too familiar with your messed up language. I love dutch :D.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            IV injection/infusion is do-able. I helped design and fly an experiment with a modified IV infusion pump (Imed Gemini PC-2) and specially modified IV bags and infusion sets (tubing) that demonstrated the procedures on STS-40 (Spacelab Life Sciences-1) and STS-47 (Spacelab-J).

            Administering sublingual liquids is much more dicey in microgravity.

            There's significant changes to physiology in microgravity, a lot of that associated with the short-term effects of fluid shift and excretion, and still other aspects ca

      • Plus, they're very hard to swallow in microgravity.

        No, they're not. Swallowing is not driven by gravity, but by the peristalsis of the smooth muscles in the throat. You can even swallow 'upwards' on Earth, but since you have gravity the muscles need to fight, it's going to feel kinda weird.

      • NO! Bad Mods! Bad!

        When you mod a 'funny' post 'interesting' to give the poster some karma points, you do something else that has some serious unintended consequences:

        You give the wrong impression to certain, how shall I say it, very impressionable, persons. They think you're serious. Then they post silly things. It's so messy and unnecessary. Remember folks, Mod points are power! Use the wisely.

        Or leave them to the pros.
      • by mpe ( 36238 )
        Plus, they're very hard to swallow in microgravity.

        In which case you'd expect it to be hard to sallow anything in that environment. Which would pose some bigger problems than taking pills. Just as well that humans are mammals rather than birds :)
    • - highly sophisticated filtering systems | CO2 recylcing | UV-light ( for killing germs ) | water treatment ( preventing water from getting brackish)
      by this -> a decline or thinning out of the variaty of germs

      recent research indicates that having a cleaned/near sterile living area makes people more susceptible to allergy, perhaps similar effects happen could happen
      in space also ..

      - biological experiments conducted in space ( bacterial cultures )

    • How would microgravity affect chemical compounds?

      We needn't think that microgravity affects chemical compounds to explain this. Many more gross physical quantities are often dominant in the effects of drugs. For example, bioavailability (absorption) of drugs can dominate with digoxin, aspirin etc. Thus changing GI motility is a big issue and could be affected by a lack of gravity. We STILL don't know how our GI tract separates gas from liquid and this could easily be gravity dependent.

      Other systems dependent on gravity include veins (the return of blood i

    • by ljw1004 ( 764174 )

      Well, yeah, the bones in their bodies are "discombobulating" while they're up there, just like they do here on earth. The issue is that the body rebuilds bone in proportion to how much stress is placed on it. There's less stress in microgravity, so the "rebuilding" rate constant is lower than on Earth.

      In general I'd see the whole human body as a great big bundle of equilibria between opposing processes. It sounds like Aristotelian philosopy but actually this "homeostasis" approach was the central theme of m

  • what about low Gravity like the moon and mars?

    this may make having people there long term alot harder.

  • This joke makes my day: "General Public" - Pffffff!
  • space tourism is will supposedly become a reality in the next few years thanks to sir richard branson and virgin galactic. What about those people who are on anti-psychotics, mood stabilizers, anti-depressants, ritalin, etc? Will they be banned for the protection of the spacecraft, themselves, and everyone in it? Considering how many people are on medication these days, I suspect this would significantly restrict the number of eligible passengers
    • It will probably depend on how long they'll stay up there. Virgin Galactic plans are only for a few minutes of weightlessness.
      • Only a few minutes of zero G? What if my wife and I take longer than that to, uh, "complete our mission"?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    For those of us wondering, here in the United States.

    • For those of us wondering, here in the United States.

      Thanks. I already worked that out when it said 'to treat a headache'. I also don't complain about typos for the same reason.

  • With 50 years of manned spaceflight, presumably carefully watched-over by physicians, how could this possibly be news?
    • by hitmark ( 640295 )

      First response when presented with a long term health issue, put the patient on the first available returning transport?

      Not so much a option if one is halfway between Earth and Mars...

    • The job of NASA's physicians was to not allow astronauts into space if they were at all unhealthy. Even a suspicion of a coming flu was enough to ground an astronaut from a mission they'd spent years preparing for. Thus, medication has rarely been required in space and tests in space have always been limited and expensive. Then again.... I'm an idiot.....

  • If we're talking about those little white pills, they're basically just a solid mix of medicine and some sort of binder usually packed in one of those foil/plastic packages that at least looks to be airtight, right? So logically it must be radiation, but how could you easily shield against the kind of radiation that would penetrate into the station's interior? Medicine storage crates with thick lead lining?
    • by hitmark ( 640295 )

      One thing to keep in mind is that the same chemical protein have different effects depending on how it is folded...

      • Microgravity can cause proteins to fold differently? Or radiation? I thought radiation just "smashed" protein chains.
        • by hitmark ( 640295 )

          just saying that things that look the same chemically can behave differently for non-chemical reasons.

    • As I responded elsewhere in the comments:

      We needn't think that microgravity affects chemical compounds to explain this. Many more gross physical quantities are often dominant in the effects of drugs. For example, bioavailability (absorption) of drugs can dominate with digoxin, aspirin etc. Thus changing GI motility is a big issue and could be affected by a lack of gravity. We STILL don't know how our GI tract separates gas from liquid and this could easily be gravity dependent.

      Other systems dependent on gra

      • I only have HS equivalent chemistry/biology knowledge, but I can see how the mechanics of the body could affect medicine dispersal/absorption. But it does not matter in this case since they sent the medicine back to earth before testing. I don't know what the word "potency" means in this case, but even if they did test them on people/animals it wouldn't have mattered.
  • If you're going on a long space trip, what are you going to get sick from? If everyone on board is still healthy after a week or so, you're all set. Outer space contains far less microbes and viruses than the typical earthly supermarket, afaik.
    • a contaminated food supply? poor filtration in the drinking water?If it is a long voyage tehn growing your own food also comes with it's own problems.

    • You can get awfully ill if your or someone else's gut flora makes it into your stomach (or eye, ...). Just because astronauts seem sterile on the outside after a few weeks it doesn't mean they're sterile inside. Add microgravity to that, and the odds of ingesting feces go way up.

  • You're in space. If you haven't gotten the infection before you came on, you're not going to get sick from the microbes in space. You're pretty much in a quarantined area.

    Granted if you have say heart problems you might need your pills, but otherwise there's no real bacteria to worry about.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      If you haven't gotten the infection before you came on, you're not going to get sick from the microbes in space.

      This is not true. From a relevant Wikipedia article [wikipedia.org]: The human body, consisting of about 100 trillion cells, carries about ten times as many microorganisms in the intestines. Any of this including the most benign cyanobacteria can lead to major infection. In fact, not taking in sufficient bacteria from the environment can be a cause of disease. It's an old disproved myth that "Avoiding illness is as simple as avoiding microbes."

      Additionally, this doesn't account for latent diseases like herpes and many oth

  • by Jessified ( 1150003 ) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @10:26AM (#35847558)

    A: At least one is.

    Salmonella in Space Get Even Nastier
    http://www.space.com/6481-salmonella-space-nastier.html [space.com]

    • by migla ( 1099771 )

      I will purposefully refrain from reading the article you linked to, so that I can put forth the image of vomit and sudden outbursts of diarrhea being nastier in zero gravity.

      • And that makes me think of the wet burp:

        Space Beer Reaches for Final Frontier
        http://news.discovery.com/space/space-beer-reaches-final-frontier-110303.html [discovery.com]

        Surely any beer can be consumed in space, right? Wrong. Not only would the launch costs be astronomical to get a crate of Stella into orbit, it's a physical impracticality to consume any carbonated beverage in space.

        Why? Zero-G has a rather nasty side effect of the "wet burp" phenomenon.

        Think about it, what happens when you swallow a mouthful of beer on Earth? It goes down your throat and sits in your stomach. Gravity ensures the fluid stays in your stomach, allowing the carbon dioxide bubbles to expand and rise to the top of the fluid. You can then sit back and let out an impressive burp to impress your friends as the carbon dioxide is vented out of your mouth.

        Now try doing that in space.

        There's little gravity to keep the fluid in your stomach, but you still need to vent that carbon dioxide that is expanding inside your belly. You try to burp.... but you end up venting the carbon dioxide, beer, and whatever else was inside your stomach through your mouth and nose. This, my friends, is called a "wet burp"; an explosive near-vomit experience guaranteed to gross out anyone who has the misfortune to be floating around with you.

      • So you're saying tequila and Mexican food should probably be banned in space?
    • by GPSguy ( 62002 )

      Yes. Some bacteria become mor virulent when incubated in a microgravity environment.

  • Radiation and other such environmental factor certainly would affect the "shelf life" and effectiveness of all molecular compounds., so in this case packaging and storage would have to be controlled. Apart from these concerns the way molecules travel through the GI tract, the blood stream , the blood brain barrier and in fact all cells is most likely affected by gravity, so that micro gravity certainly would cause these factors to be different and likely produce unpredictable results. It should also be note

    • If it's affecting the shelf life of medicine, isn't it also affecting the shelf life of human beings? I'd be a lot more concerned about the latter than the former.
  • perhaps they should re-evaluate the effectiveness of Paracetamol on earth first.. That crap has never done squat for any of my headaches ever*. Curse the Reye Syndrome scare of my childhood making my parents think that Tylenol was the only safe pain reliever when I was a kid. Safe, perhaps, but useless. Also, from what I've read.. It's really not that safe, either...

    *yes, I realize this has a sample size of one person (though many headaches...). Can anyone say it's worked for them?

    • It works for me, and not only does it work, but it's the only common non-prescription pain reliever that I can take due to the fact that I have Crohn's Disease. Ibuprofen and ASA are both known to increase the likelihood of Crohn's flareups and cause issues in Crohn's sufferers.

      Furthermore, I went through a period where I was extremely ill and bed-ridden for about three years. Many days I had fevers of 102-104F. Tylenol brought it down to a much less incapacitating 100-101F. If I have a headache, 600 mg of

    • by tbird81 ( 946205 )

      Make sure you take paracetamol regularly. Two tabs (2x500mg) four times per day.

      The mistake people make with Panadol/Tylenol is that they wait til they're really sore, then take a table and complain it doesn't work. It's not going to completely get rid of your pain, but it might take the "edge" off it. It's immensely safer than NSAIDs and fewer side effects that opioids, show you should make sure you're getting a full dose before stepping up to another medicine.

      If you get migraines, then there may be other

      • by khr ( 708262 )

        Make sure you take paracetamol regularly. Two tabs (2x500mg) four times per day.

        Isn't that pushing the safe limit, 4000mg per day "regularly"?

        When my migraines get bad I do that for a while, but of course it does nothing for the migraines... It only really works to accelerate the tail end of a migraine... For the last month or so I've just been taking one pill of 250mg paracetamol, 250mg aspirin and 65mg caffeine every morning and that's mostly working. If yesterday was an indication, it's probably the caffeine doing most of it, since I skipped the pill but had a bottle of Manhattan

      • It's immensely safer than NSAIDs

        For certain values of "safer", yes. Side effects are less common and less severe, but the gap between "clinical dose" and "overdose" is much smaller, overdose symptoms during the first 24 hours (when treatment is most effective) are often nonexistent, and the impact of an overdose is more severe.

      • It's immensely safer than NSAIDs and fewer side effects that opioids

        Well, sure. As long as you weren't using your liver for anything...

  • by Ossifer ( 703813 ) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @11:00AM (#35847732)

    Ok, then just take acetaminophen instead!

  • We get it, you're european. Very trendy. Couldn't you have just said "aspirin" ?

    • Why would they? They're the British BBC, Paracetamol is far more common in the UK than any other over the counter analgesic; do you think they care about an American (I'm guessing) Slashdoter's inferiority complex?

      (I realise I didn't contribute anything pertinent to the discussion but I couldn't help myself.)
    • because it is Tylenol !

    • Yeah, except those two are two different things.

    • by tbird81 ( 946205 )

      Paracetamol isn't aspirin! Don't make silly mistakes like that!

      Paracetamol is the same as acetaminophen. The major brand in the US is Tylenol, the major brand outside of US is Panadol.

      For whatever reason, they chose to abbreviate a generic name from the compound slightly differently: para-acetylaminophenol and para-acetylaminophenol.

  • Give 'em a tube of chicken soup, they'll be alright.
    Give em a marijuana brownie for anything not covered by the soup.
    Quit worrying about it.

    • Or just tell them to space-walk it off.

      • by flyneye ( 84093 )

        Yeah, the sissy-pants! In our day we had to take the helmet off in mid walk just to clear the dust off the screen before anti static cover. I bet the lil girls would complain about a little decompression. No wonder the Russkies beat us going up. They did it on baling wire , duct tape and a tin can and landed on their asses in Siberia instead of a cozy girlie splash down. :P

  • Who exactly are astronauts in space going to contract an infection from? How did Captain James T. Kirk solve the problem of space-acquired STDs?
    • by GPSguy ( 62002 )

      While I can't speak to Kirk's problems, the Shuttle isn't a sterile environment. It is kept as clean as possible, mainly because they don't want any more particulate contamination to fly, and get circulated in microgravity than necessary, but you can't get rid of all of it, Historically, on Shuttle, they set up a fan between Middeck and Flight Deck, in the starboard access area, and used a filter on the inlet side. It captured fine particulate matter... and pens, etc., that were dropped or otherwise lost by

  • So what are they saying, that gravity is actually the best antibiotic? In that case, we should all move to Jupiter.

  • Tired of spending so much money on the drugs that keep you healthy? Buy half as much and then relax in our therapeutic centrifuge for double the drugs effects!
  • In the wake of the recent events in Japan, I've been reviewing serious information on radiation dosage and effects such as that at http://mitnse.com/ [mitnse.com].

    That's gotten me to think further on a rarely-mentioned impact on astronaut health, and that's the "risk" of persistently higher levels of radiation - it seems that in actuality persistently higher radiation exposures (up to 200x normal background levels, for example) actually INCREASE human health (to a point, obviously), and extend lifespan.

    (Notice no mentio

  • Guys are sooo looking forward to PMS in space...
  • Evaluation of Physical and Chemical Changes in Pharmaceuticals Flown on Space Missions
    Brian Du1, Vernie R. Daniels1, Zalman Vaksman2, Jason L. Boyd3, Camille Crady1 and Lakshmi Putcha4
    Efficacy and safety of medications used for the treatment of astronauts in space may be compromised by altered stability in space. We compared physical and chemical changes with time in 35 formulations contained in identical pharmaceutical kits stowed on the International Space Station (ISS) and on Earth. Active pharma

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