A study revealed that medicines in space don’t degrade any different than they do on Earth. Researchers examined medicines sent back from the International Space Station (ISS) to conduct the study.

The ISS frequently replaces those medicines that are already expired, although this couldn’t be possible on missions that travel to more distant regions of space. Medicines on Earth degrade faster when they are exposed to oxygen, light or humidity.

The new study found that medicines do not degrade or expire faster in space. Credit: Heartwiseministries.org

Although these conditions on the ISS are set to be ideal for the conversation of medicines, there is no study or evidence that shows the effects of the particular factors that could affect medicines in space, such as microgravity and exposure to radiation levels.

Virginia Wotring, lead author of the study, examined nine medications that were on the ISS and that returned to Earth after being stored for 550 days without being used. Among these medications, there were pain relievers, sleeping aids, decongestants, antidiarrhoeal and alertness drugs. These were kept under controlled conditions before the analysis, three months after the arrival.

Wotring, and its team from the Baylor College of Medicine analyzed the amount of active ingredients and degradation products in the medicines. They compared the results to the 2012 U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) guidelines that provided the necessary requirements to determine if the medicines were properly stored in space.

Results showed that one medication stood up to USP requirements even after five months after its expiration date. Four of the nine drugs were able to be used up to eight months after being expired. Also, three medications fulfilled the requirements three months after they went expired. Nevertheless, a sleeping aid medicine didn’t meet the requirements after 11 months of the expiration date. However, no unusual degradation was recorded on the results.

A possible ‘lucky shot’

However, Wotring and his team, acknowledge that “opportunistic nature” of the study, meaning that the results are based on measurements made on a given time, on a restricted group of medicines.

They explain, “The findings cannot, therefore, be applied to gauge the safety and effectiveness of other medicines, or extrapolated to other storage times.”

However, further research is needed to be able to draw a preventive “health care” plan for astronauts going in long-term space missions -like going to Mars, for example. The flight team will not be able to restock their medicines as the ISS can. The next studies will provide the necessary information that will support, or not, the present study.

Source: American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists Journal