13
$\begingroup$

There are any quantity of spin-offs from the Space Program. Developments by the erstwhile Soviet Space Program, and others are probably not well known, or easy to locate online. Yet NASA, and it's affiliates are more visible. A few of their contributions to the quality of life are as listed here.

Scrolling the pages reveals screen after screen of technologies that have contributed to the quality of life, and health-care. Yet it is strangely disappointing - all I see listed are technologies

What medicines (stuff like penicillin, statins; therapeutic formulations) come from the space program?

EDIT: At the moment I'm looking not at commercial production, but active/proposed research into formulations regardless whether such formulation were meant for use by astronauts, or whether they were (for whatever reason) short-listed for study in microgravity, hard radiation ... and whatever else orbit environment may provide.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Would you accept any progress made in life science, or you only want to know about drugs? There has been a lot of progress made regarding osteoporosis, sleeping patterns, and many more, but non that I can think of directly relating to drug development. Many of today's progress in health science has to do with lifestyle instead of drugs... Sure there still are lots of drugs left to be discovered, but the next radical increases in life quality will come from lifestyle changes. $\endgroup$ – PhilMacKay Mar 3 '14 at 21:11
  • $\begingroup$ Not sure if that hits your inquiry, but Phenibut, a drug with a very unique effect, was designed specifically for astronauts during the Soviet Space Program. It was meant to be used in space, yes. $\endgroup$ – noncom Jul 21 '15 at 16:36
9
$\begingroup$

I am aware of one such scientific program that spun off something useful: the Salmonella vaccine research by Arizona State University. The virulence of the Salmonella bacteria was altered in microgravity environment, generally making it more aggressive. These changes in bacteria behavior helped identify new possibilities for vaccine development. The research happened aboard Space Shuttles and the ISS.

International Space Station Plays Role in Vaccine Development

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

Not exactly medicine per se, but baby formula enriched with docosahexaenoic (DHA) and arachidonic (ARA) acids that are present in human breast milk were discovered by chance in certain types of algae when they were researched for possible ways of producing oxygen:

The formula being fed to the baby contains an algae-based additive highly enriched in nutrients believed to be beneficial to infant mental and visual development; called Formulaid ®, the additive is an offshoot of space research. (1)

Research in growing superpotent crystalline structures is also promising, and they've already managed to develop techniques to grow super-fine insulin crystals so far back as in 1998:

From this, scientists expect to be able to design new forms of insulin that the body can absorb more effectively than the forms now on the market. With certain chemicals bound to insulin, diabetics could inject themselves once every three days or so, instead of one to three times a day. (2)

Research on protein crystallisation using microgravity now continues under the banner of CASIS ISS National Lab (3). And there were all kinds of other medical technology spinoffs and medical advancements in general that were made possible through research in or for microgravity environment and long duration spaceflight. See recommended reading links below for more.

Sources:

  1. NASA Spinoff: Nutritional Products from Space Research
  2. NASA Science News: Weightless Research has Heavy Implications - Crystal-clear view of insulin should lead to improved therapies for diabetics
  3. CASIS Request for Proposals: Advancing Protein Crystallization Using Microgravity

Recommended reading:

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

It's not surprising that no new medicines have come directly from the space program. The one thing that the space environment can contribute to the production of medicines is microgravity, but for now, access to space is much too expensive to consider commercially producing any medicines in space.
Similarly, I get the impression that pharmaceutical research is mostly a matter of repeating similar experiments thousands of times with small variations, so this is more suited to a large lab than a tiny experiments cabinet on the ISS.
What has been done instead is fundamental research into all kinds of biological and chemical processes. This knowledge feeds into research programs on earth that may lead to new medicines etc.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This answer is incomplete, because it only addresses what might happen in space, but the question is what comes from the space program. For example, many technologies have been produced on Earth out of the research and need of the space program, and then have later been useful in other areas. This is a major component of the question--has any medicine been developed for the space program, that has entered public use. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Oct 18 '13 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ I think there is a misunderstanding Hobbes is answering why new medicines are not developed "in space", and @everyone asking if new medicines are developed "for space", that have benefit on earth. $\endgroup$ – James Jenkins Oct 18 '13 at 14:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.