Astropharmacy and Astromedicine
This research area addresses the question of how pioneers and explorers are to receive effective medical and pharmaceutical care. Disease is an inherent part of being alive, and thus disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment will be critical to human missions. ‘Upmass’ issues would prevent the transport of a complete pharmacy into space. Or to the Antarctic. Or on a submarine. Or to a UN relief camp. The availability of safe and effective pharmaceuticals defines the extent of acceptably-safe exploration. And the problems of providing pharmaceutical support are amplified when considering the nutritional needs of our pioneers and colonists.In spaceflight, the human body changes in microgravity – muscles atrophy, fluids redistribute, the microbiome changes, bones decalcify, gut enzymes change. Astronauts face new challenges: haematological crises (stroke, myocardial infarction, pulmonary embolism, etc.) And challenges from bacteria, either brought with them or part of their changing microbiome. Bacteria become more resistant to antibiotics AND antibiotics become less effective. This, compounded with the fact that the immune system shuts down, means our intrepid explorers are probably going to be in need of some serious medical care. That is also a problem. The pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics changes with flight (as the astronauts change in flight), so medicines will need to be tailored for them individually and specifically at the point of need. We can’t afford to take everything we may possibly need with us, so we need to find ways to manufacturer pharmaceuticals in-situ and on demand.And with space travel becoming in reach of the masses, how will safety be ensured and who will be responsible?
Some of the research areas and questions we are addressing include:
- Developing life support technologies for sending life to Mars.
- Developing microsensors of physiologic function for use in deep space.
- How can we accurately and non-invasively monitor bone decalcification and kidney stone production?
- Why are bacteria are more virulent and antibiotics less potent in flight?
- Why does micro-gravity causes significant changes in the behaviour of immune cells, and can we improve immune cell function, pharmacologically, in micro-gravity?
- Does magnetic levitation create an accurate environment to study the effects of micro-gravity on cellular and organ behaviour?
- Can cell-free protein expression systems be developed from extremophiles for the in-situ production of biopharmaceuticals?
- Can cell-free extreme-condition protein expression be expanded to make enzymes for the production of small molecules on demand?
- Can cell-free expression be used to make nutraceuticals?
- How can real-time quality control be provided?
- Can we measure alterations in pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics due to changes in nutrition and fluid distribution, muscle and bone mass, gastrointestinal microbiome and enzymes, and immune system regulation.
- Can additive manufacturing and 3D-printing be used to create individually-PK/PD-tailored medicines?
- Can synthetic biology be used to convert waste into feedstock for the cell-free expression, or 3D-printing?
- How will medicines quality and safety be assured when manufactured remotely?
- What are the health and medicines safety issues around space tourism?
By focussing on the horizon we see beyond the problems
We came all this way to explore the moon, and what we discovered was the Earth
William Anders, Apollo 8
Phil Williams (School of Pharmacy)
Nate Szewczyk (School of Medicine)
Li Shean Toh (School of Pharmacy)