UM Pharmacy School secures grants for space medicine research

Published 2:41 pm Wednesday, January 3, 2024


NASA provides seed grants to fund student-led studies of medicine production in space

By Natalie Ehrhardt

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The Mississippi Space Grant Consortium has awarded two seed grants to the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy that will enable six first-year students to conduct innovative research on space medicine.

Each $33,000 grant was secured through the organization’s Student Led STEM Activities Program and will be used to fund two separate projects focusing on space medicine.

Students working on these projects are Sujung Hahm of Ocean Springs, Armani Nguyen of Laurel, Kenneth Retumban of Ridgeland, Hosam Mohamed of Brandon, Jermall Germon of Carthage and Nicholas Dean of Brandon.

“I am thankful for the prestigious award granted to us,” Germon said. “We are now equipped with the resources to delve into expansive research, paving the way for impactful discoveries and contributing to the forefront of knowledge and innovation.”

UM students researching medication distribution in space. (Contributed)

The Mississippi Space Grant Consortium is a statewide nonprofit organization of institutions of higher learning coordinated by the Mississippi Research Consortium and supported by NASA. This is the first time the School of Pharmacy has worked with the organization.

Mo Maniruzzaman, chair and professor of pharmaceutics and drug delivery, created the program, secured the funding and is supervising the research.

“I always envisioned having young scholars inspired in doing innovative research on the cutting edge,” Maniruzzaman said. “This seems to be a great opportunity to bring undergraduate researchers, especially P1s, on board to help navigate through one of the most exciting research areas of aerospace medicine.”

In the first project, titled SpacePill, students are developing a portable 3D-printing digital platform to produce on-demand personalized medicines in space. These researchers theorize that this technology will also enhance patients’ – in this case, astronauts’ – compliance to medication because of the ease of using one pill containing multiple drugs.

This technology could be a boon for treating microgravity-induced complications such as osteoporosis, a common clinical condition in space.

Students working on the second project, called Factory-on-a-pill, aim to develop 3D-printed pills that can be used to produce medicines in space using bioengineered microbes. The idea behind the pill is that in the future, following the successful execution of this research project, small satellites could be used to deliver programmable pharmaceuticals to astronauts in space.

Hahm said her passion for the work comes from the reality of health care in America.

“Despite spending the most money on health care, the United States is frequently ranked at the bottom compared to other developed nations,” Hahm said. “I am very excited to participate in this research so we can develop avenues to make medicine more available to not just the citizens of the United States, but the global population as a whole.

“The prospect of sending medication to space is, of course, also very exciting.”

Challenges in meeting space medicine needs include economic considerations, such as the cost associated with shipping materials to space and limited resources available in space for making medicines, Maniruzzaman noted. Due to the latter, giving astronauts the ability to manufacture their own customized medicines through 3D printing may be an ideal solution.

“Space medicine also deals with the challenges related to human health in space missions, such as physiological changes due to lack of gravity, light and darkness cycles, isolation and constant exposure to radiation,” he said.

Why Maniruzzaman set his sights on this particular area of research for students comes down to opportunity.

“The manufacturing of medicines presents a significant industrial opportunity for the U.S. as the global medicines market is going through a period of vivid change where emerging-market expansion, accessible and effective treatment and technology advances will increase sector growth,” he said.

UM students are researching medication distribution in space. (Contributed)

Researching space medicines is not only important for future space flights, but also contributes to the development of earth-side medicine, Maniruzzaman explained.

“It will also answer many unanswered questions related to terrestrial research, such as how medicines will behave in an environment with no gravity or how astronauts will respond to medicines before, during and after space flight,” he said.

This may have been the school’s first time applying for research funding through the consortium, but it will not be the last. Maniruzzaman is making plans to apply for further funding opportunities in 2024.