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Impact of simulated space radiations on the stability of medicines

Today, humans are successfully living and working in the space in one kind of permanent and large spacecraft, known as International Space Station (ISS). The next great leap will be sending humans deeper into space than ever before, especially on Mars. Our prime minister, Narendra Modi has also promised to send Indian astronauts in space by 2022- the 75th year of country’s independence.

While exploring the space, the safety of the astronaut is very important. Astronauts face various health issues during spaceflight such as space motion sickness, trauma, burn, headache, sleeping deprivation; altered cardiovascular function, respiratory infections, allergic reactions, dental disorders etc. The astronauts use medicines for the treatment and prevention of these health problems. These medicines must remain stable throughout their shelf life to assure their quality, efficacy and patient safety.

But, around 20% of astronauts when took medicines during spaceflight, the anticipated effects of the drugs were less, or the drugs did not affect at all. One of the possible reason for that can be instability of the medicines in the presence of space radiation environment. Therefore, the possible effects of the space radiation on the stability of medicines should have been known before long duration space missions to assure their quality.

However, space is not readily accessible. In this case, radiation simulation studies on Earth can be helpful. Therefore, to address the stability issues of medicines flown to space, one little step was taken by us at Institute of Pharmacy, Nirma University. We have selected the medicines, which are being used by the astronauts for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases, pain and infections in various space exploration missions. In the study, we have exposed the medicines to various ionizing radiations including protons, neutrons, gamma and heavy ion at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Inter University Accelerator Centre (IUAC), Delhi etc. We evaluated the physicochemical stability of the drugs post radiation exposure using various sophisticated analytical techniques like chromatography, spectroscopy etc. The organoleptic evaluation of selected medicines showed colour changes after irradiation. The chemical stability analysis showed that the medicines loss their active content up to 15% along with the formation of numerous impurities following radiation exposure.

The results of the study showed the detrimental effects of ionizing radiations on the stability of medicines, which might compromise the health of astronauts on consumption.  Our study will help to predict the possible degradation of medicines during long duration spaceflights. The present research will provide important insight into the need for countermeasures for future space medicines.

The study is carried out in collaboration with Dr. Haladhara Naik and Dr. Newton Nathaniel from Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai; and Dr. Saif Khan from Inter University Accelerator Centre (IUAC), Delhi.

Written By,
Ms Dhara Bhayani
PhD research scholar
Institute of Pharmacy