A study contucted by Virginia Wotring of the Center for Space Medicine and Department of Pharmacology at Baylor College of Medicine in the U.S. suggests that the medicines that have been stored on the International Space Station are not degrading faster than what is typically observed with medicines on Earth.
The study, which used samples from medications that were sent back to Earth after 550 days aboard the ISS, is from The AAPS Journal, the official journal of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists. The medicines tested included pain relievers, an alertness drug, an antidiarrheal, sleeping aids and antihistamines.
This new finding shows that drugs in space degrade over time at the same speed as drugs on Earth. Degradation depends on environmental factors such as exposure to oxygen or light. The researchers were aiming to find out if exposure to radiation and micro-gravity would have any adverse effects on the medicines stored on the space station.
It turns out, it does not. Most of the drugs were expired when they finally made it home to Earth, but the testing at Baylor showed that four of the nine drugs still met United States Pharmacopoeia standards for viability nine months after their expiration date.
Scientists caution that more research is still needed to determine which medications can survive for longer periods of time in space. They also warned not to use the data to make any inferences about other drugs.
The results are based only on measurements made at a single point in time, for a handful of medications. The findings cannot, therefore, be applied to gauge the safety and effectiveness of other medicines, or extrapolated to other storage times.
The further research into longer-lasting medications might be able to be used for more lengthy space missions, such as those to Mars, which will require that medications be stored for a prolonged period of time compared to ISS missions.