SpaceX, ISS partner to test remote control of drug delivery technology on orbiting laboratory

The International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory is sponsoring another study of drug delivery in the thermosphere, partnering with Houston Methodist Research Institute and SpaceX to test a system in a model orbiting Earth.

Last year, the collaborators used SpaceX’s 23rd commercial resupply services mission to send materials to the ISS to study an implantable drug delivery device that can be remotely operated. Now, the team is using the 26th SpaceX mission to continue studying drug delivery implants that can be controlled from Earth.

“We’re preparing for the first demonstration of a remotely controlled telemedicine implant in an animal model on the ISS. It’s the ultimate sci-fi medicine in space. And beyond our investigations, the implant could provide a valuable technology for drug dosing in rodent research studies with no need for astronaut time,” Alessandro Grattoni, Ph.D., professor of nanomedicine at the Houston Methodist Research Institute, said in a statement.

Grattoni and his collaborators are assessing a nanofluidic implant that combines membranes with small nanochannels to deliver a controlled drug dose through diffusion. Earlier work has shown nanochannels can enable the release of specific amounts of drugs for individualized treatment and assessed the ability of the implant to mitigate microgravity-induced muscular atrophy in mice.

In the current investigation, researchers will immerse an implant featuring communication technology in liquid saline and try to control it using Bluetooth and a Blackberry device on Earth. The researchers will test different frequencies to show whether the implant can precisely deliver and adjust doses on command.

Eventually, the science could enable the treatment of astronauts on long-term missions, for example by mitigating the effects of radiation or prolonged exposure to microgravity that they may experience while traveling to Mars. Grattoni’s team has developed versions of the implants that have multiple reservoirs to enable different drugs to be dosed simultaneously.