Astropharmacy & Space Health for Pharmacy Graduates | Academically

Introducing Astropharmacy And Space Health for Pharmacy Graduates

Jun 14, 2024 3 min read
Astropharmacy & Space Health for Pharmacy Graduates

Key Takeaways:

  • Astropharmacy is the emerging field of medicine dedicated to the unique healthcare needs of space travellers.
  • It extends beyond simply dispensing medication, encompassing innovative approaches like personalised medicine and using advanced technologies.
  • This evolving field aims to address the unique challenges of spaceflight, paving the way for a healthier future for space exploration.

Ever gazed up at the stars and dreamed of soaring amongst them like a real astronaut?  Sure, it seems like an awesome job, but have you ever wondered how astronauts stay healthy in space?

Imagine being miles away from Earth, surrounded by the vast emptiness of space. What would happen to astrunauts body in the harsh environment of space, where there is no atmosphere to protect you from the intense heat of the sun or the chilling cold of the void? What about the effects of zero gravity on your health? And if illness strikes, how would they receive medical treatment when traditional methods are not readily available?

That's where astropharmacy comes in. It's like a space-age pharmacy, focusing on making medicine and healthcare work in space. From creating drugs that can handle space conditions to finding new ways to deliver medicine without gravity, astropharmacy is changing how we keep astronauts healthy in space.

In this blog, we'll explore the cool science behind astropharmacy and how it's helping keep astronauts safe and healthy. Join us on this journey into out-of-this-world medicine!

Why Astropharmacy in Space?

In space missions with limited space and weight, carrying all necessary pharmaceuticals is impractical. This is where astropharmacy comes in, allowing for the on-demand production of protein drugs using genes as templates for cellular or cell-free expression of proteins.

Space presents unique health challenges like bone and muscle deterioration, kidney stones, and fluid redistribution. Protein-based drugs offer potential treatments for these issues, making astropharmacy crucial for space health.

Here's how an astro-pharmacist can create instant biopharmaceuticals in space: Cells produce specific drugs, such as teriparatide for osteoporosis or G-CSF for stimulating white blood cell production. This process involves three essential steps:

  • Designing paper-based microfluidic devices that use fusion proteins for diagnosis.
  • Utilising cellular or cell-free systems for drug manufacturing. Cellular systems use bacteria like Vibrio natriegens (Vmax) or Bacillus subtilis, which can be stored for years without refrigeration. Alternatively, a cell-free system operates outside the constraints of a living cell, allowing high protein yields.
  • Purifying the synthesised drugs on a microfluidic chip can be automated for future use with minimal training.

This streamlined approach to drug synthesis and purification within an astropharmacy ensures that astronauts can access vital medications without the limitations of shelf-life and storage, particularly crucial for long-duration space flights. 

Health Problems in Space

Space exploration poses unique health challenges for astronauts, especially during long missions beyond low-earth orbit. Here are some of the main issues reported during missions to the International Space Station (ISS) and Space Shuttle missions from 1988 to 1995:

Zero-G Sickness: Astronauts can feel nauseous and unwell due to the brain's struggle to adjust to zero gravity, similar to motion sickness.

Mental Health: Being confined in a small space for a long time can affect astronauts' mental well-being, potentially impacting mission success.

Muscle Weakness: Prolonged space travel leads to muscle weakness, which can be mitigated through regular exercise using dedicated gym equipment onboard spacecraft.

Visual Deterioration: Spending months in space can cause changes in eye structure, affecting vision and depth perception.

Bone Problems: Weightlessness can weaken bones, posing risks to astronauts' bone health.

Head Congestion: Fluid shifts in zero gravity can cause fluid to accumulate in astronauts' heads, leading to puffy faces.

Decreased Immune System Efficiency: Spaceflight stressors can weaken the immune system, making astronauts more sensitive to illnesses.

Radiation Hazards: Astronauts are exposed to harmful radiation types outside Earth's protective magnetic field, which can affect their health.

Medical Emergencies: Space missions can have emergencies like trauma or injuries requiring specialised care onboard.

Pharmaceutical Product Stability in Space

Ensuring the stability of medications in space is crucial for astronauts' health during long missions. Space radiation can degrade drugs, affecting their potency and safety. Both liquid and solid formulations are vulnerable to degradation. To ensure effectiveness, medications must be tested for changes in physical and chemical properties after exposure to space conditions. Limited research has been conducted on this topic, highlighting the need for further study to ensure the safe use of medications in space.

Pharmaceutical Product Stability in Space

Pharmacogenomics and Space

Pharmacogenomics, which studies how genes influence a person's response to medication, offers a personalised approach to drug therapy. While this method advances on Earth, its application in space is limited. However, integrating pharmacogenomics into space medicine could optimise drug effectiveness while minimising adverse events for astronauts.

There is little research on how genetics contribute to medication variability in space. Factors like environmental changes during launch and return to Earth, as well as variations in nutrition and fitness, can affect drug responses. Additionally, astronauts come from diverse ethnicities, genders, and ages, complicating medication dosing.

Despite these challenges, it is crucial to gather pharmacogenetic data and study its impact on drug outcomes in space. This will enable tailored drug therapy for astronauts, enhancing their health and well-being during space missions. As space exploration continues, understanding pharmacogenomics in the context of space medicine will become increasingly important for optimising astronaut health.

The Role of Pharmacists in Space

While the role of space medicine doctors is well-established, pharmacists' contribution to the health of space participants is often overlooked. However, pharmacists are crucial in ensuring the safe and effective use of medications in space missions. Here are some major role of pharmacists in space:



Evolution of the medical domain
  • Personalised medication by developing targeted therapies using advancements in genomics
  • Targeted and personalised therapies optimised for specific patient groups in the species
Patient care
  • Drug tolerance testing
  • Countermeasure support
  • Combining, altering or mixing ingredients/medications suit the needs of astronaut physiology and genetics in space
  • Preparing a convenience and contingency medical kits
  • The development of personalised medicine includes myriad inorganic as well as organic strategies
  • Handling medications and prescriptions during the space mission includes the supply of dose administration aids (blister packs)
Clinical pharmacokinetics monitoring
  • Designing drug dosage regimens based on PK-PD
  • Recommending or scheduling measurements of drug concentrations in biological fluids
  • Monitoring and adjusting dosage regimens on the basis of pharmacologic responses and biological fluid
  • Evaluating responses to drug therapy
  • Educating crew members about pharmacokinetic principles and appropriate indications for clinical pharmacokinetic monitoring
  • Developing quality assurance programs for documenting improved patient outcomes
Pharmacy integration
  • Patient safety issues
  • Drug information
Clinical pharmacogenomics
  • Advocating for the rational and ethical use of pharmacogenomics testing
  • Ordering pharmacogenomics tests when appropriate
  • Optimising medication therapy based on pharmacogenomics test results
  • Providing information and educating crew members in spaceflight
  • Supporting and participating in research
  • Kit inspection
  • Storage of pharmaceutical
  • Drug recalls
Drug information
  • Medication monographs
  • Drug recalls
  • Pharmaceutical technology update
  • Medical checklist procedures
Commercial space travel
  • Ensure people health
  • Ensure essential medicine availability
  • Ensure alternative medicine availability
  • Ensure the availability of alternative treatments

In Summary

This highlights the challenges related to pharmaceutical stability in microgravity conditions during space missions. It also discusses how deep space exploration can affect human physiology and pharmacogenetics, leading to changes in pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics (PK-PD). 

Pharmacists are crucial in ensuring medication safety and effectiveness in space missions. They must continue to research and develop strategies to overcome challenges related to pharmaceutical stability in space, considering factors like space radiation and microgravity.

Furthermore, as space travel becomes more accessible to civilians with initiatives like SpaceX's Crew Dragon, the need for pharmacists to understand the unique health considerations of space travellers becomes increasingly important. By studying this subject more deeply, pharmacists can contribute to the success and safety of future space exploration missions, whether they involve professional astronauts or private citizens.

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Dr. Indu K
Dr. Indu K
about the author

Dr. Indu K is a dentist with one year of clinical experience. She seamlessly transitioned into content writing three years ago. Her passion lies in making complex medical information accessible to everyone. She uses her unique blend of medical knowledge and exceptional writing skills to bridge the gap between healthcare and the general audience.