A research project into off-earth digital chemistry is set to begin shortly, following a successful space launch today. The DIDO2 nano-satellite contains materials that will allow the research team to remotely test the ability to use digital chemistry to create drugs and materials as required, rather than launch payloads requiring specific medications.
The experiment was designed by Professor Lee Cronin, the University of Glasgow’s Regius Chair of Chemistry, and will involve the team remotely activating a microfluidic device inside the satellite which will bring together chemical agents. The researchers will then be able to watch the agents react via an onboard microscope.
The experiment builds on previous work by the Cronin Group to digitise chemistry and allow for the on-demand ‘printing’ of a vast array of chemical compounds.
“This is a fantastic opportunity to literally take the Cronin Group’s research to new heights. Low- and zero-gravity environments offer a wide range of new opportunities for science, and we’re excited to see how this experiment progresses,” said Cronin.
“Imagine you are on living on Mars and you need access to a drug that you have not taken with you, this approach might allow you to use a digital blueprint and make the drug on demand from a minimal set of chemicals.
“This collaboration is exciting since we are going to be able to do a digitally controlled chemical experiment in space that produces a complex organic molecule that is part of a class of anti-cancer drugs under study in my laboratory. We chose this molecule as it complex one-pot three step assembly and ends by producing the drug candidate in highly pure crystalline form.”
If successful, the experiment will take a big step closer to manufacturing drugs off-Earth. Not only would such a capability greatly enhance any future manned space exploration or colonisation, but the medical possibilities of development in microgravity are numerous. In terms of exploration specifically, however, launch payloads’ efficiency would be greatly increased by the ability to manufacture on demand rather than dragging up vast numbers of specific medicines.
The current mission will be looking to form crystals of a drug currently being developed for use as a possible anti-cancer treatment. In the future, however, the technology could allow astronauts to create essentially any kind of medication they may require. Given the push towards manned Mars exploration, the capability to craft on-demand medicine will be crucial in the coming years.
The mission was one of 103 launched into space this morning on an Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) rocket and is part of the ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle programme. The launch was developed in partnership with SpacePharma, a company which specialises in providing scientists with access to microgravity environments, and was successfully completed just before 4am GMT/ 9am local time at Sriharikota.