Space drugs: how to cure people in zero gravity?

The effects of space flights on humans are unpredictable. Radiation is the greatest danger: out of the 22 Soviet cosmonauts that have passed away to date, over 40 percent died of cancer. Orbital flights cause other illnesses as well, from partial deafness to osteoporosis. Some probiotics were developed to restore astronauts’ digestion, and space foods have probiotic supplements.  

In microgravity, the calcium in our bones is lost by excretion into blood and urine, which may exacerbate kidney stone disease. In 1982, cosmonaut Anatoly Berezovsky experienced an acute colic during a space flight. “It hurt so much I wanted to jump out into open space,” he recalls. Berezovsky decided not to report the incident to the control center in order to avoid aborting the mission, and he even agreed to stay in orbit to set a new record: 211 days.

Treating diseases in space is not an easy task. The human body behaves differently in microgravity, even on the cellular level. Today, cosmonauts working on board of the International Space Station (ISS) have a medical kit with ordinary medicines. But the problem will be worse during long missions, such as a flight to Mars.

Russian scientists decided to look at how space affects stem cells to create new medications for long space missions. In May 2018, they plan to send a new bioreactor with stem cells to the ISS.

Unpredictable gravity

“We do not know how human or animal cells will behave in different gravity situations, be it microgravity or increased gravity,” says Mikhail Krasheninnikov, a leading researcher at the Advanced Cellular Technologies Department of the First Moscow State Medical University.

It took the university 14 years to develop the bioreactor. “Nobody has succeeded in cultivating cells in a space flight environment before,” Krasheninnikov explains. “The in-orbit cell growing mechanism has not been tested in practice.”

The first bioreactor experiment will try to grow plant…

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