SpaceX sends drug delivery implants to space station for study

space station spacewalk
The project continues the history of studying drug delivery in space. (Wikimedia Commons)

NASA has opened another front in the long-running exploration of drug delivery in space. The latest initiative sees implantable drug delivery devices sent to the International Space Station on a SpaceX resupply mission. 

The SpaceX Dragon resupply spacecraft took off Sunday carrying 10 remotely controlled drug delivery implants sealed in tubes of saline solution. Once the crew on the space station activates the research kit, the devices will communicate with a Bluetooth controller. The system will record and analyze the implants for 14 days to show whether communication is achieved and maintained. 

NASA sees applications for the technology in space and on Earth. In space, the implants could enable researchers to study rodents without taking up the time of crew members on the station. The device also has applications in the delivery of drugs to humans on Earth, although that is still some way off.  

“Having an implant that allows you to modulate drug release and change drug-release profiles over time really opens up a spectrum of opportunities that goes from clinical developments to potentially expanded resources for research and fundamental science,” Alessandro Grattoni, Ph.D., professor of the Department of Nanomedicine at the Houston Methodist Research Institute, said in a statement.

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Grattoni, who collaborated with Novartis on an earlier study in space, designed the current version of the technology to enable users to remotely stop and start the flow of the medication. After the study is complete, the devices will return to Earth for assessment by the researchers. 

The project continues the history of studying drug delivery in space. In 2002, researchers studied the encapsulation of cancer drugs on the space station. Work on drug delivery in space goes still further back, with NASA funding research into a transdermal drug delivery system in the 1980s.