Sunday, May 6, 2012

Making drugs in outer space

The International Space Station (ISS) that orbits the Earth does more than just enable human beings to travel into space. Studies performed by NASA on the habitable space satellite have revealed how we can improve the way drugs are manufactured. Apparently, the lack of gravity makes for excellent research conditions when it comes to drug delivery systems.

Scientists from NASA performed experiments on the ISS to create better capsules that can hold drugs or other beneficial molecules. It is a delicate technique that requires assembly of, mostly fatty, molecules to form a solid sphere that keeps its contents sealed from the outside world. Scientists use the zero gravity situation of space to improve the way these capsules are created, which can then be translated to new production methods on Earth. By using special hardware, it was possible to combine two liquids to form a usable homogenized substance, something that would never have happened spontaneously under the influence of gravity, just like water and oil would never mix.
A conventional capsule, created with fatty molecules. The ones manufactured at the ISS are likely to be far more complex.
The 'space capsules' were tested on special mice that were artificially given human-derived prostate tumours. By loading the spheres with specific cancer detectors and a drug to destroy malicious cells, scientists were able to prove that their constructs are suitable for clinical use. It is also possible to load them up with drugs for other forms of tumours, as cancer treatment seems to be the primary reason to create these capsules. Clinical trials to test efficiency in humans will start in the near future.

According to the scientists, their experiments provided new insights in how to improve drug-containing spheres. Different drugs and treatments require different encapsulations, which makes production a tricky business. There are not many forms of medicinal research that can take place in space, and there are even less reasons to actually prefer the situation of zero gravity to the comfortable labs back on Earth.
The International Space Station.

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