Food For Space

Research continues on an eventual 140-million-mile mission to Mars; developing the latest transportation as well as habitats necessary for the red planet. But embarking on such a mission and safely living both during and afterward are differing ideas. The latter is the research focus of Alina Alexeenko. The researcher know how to get to space; but that’s not the same as knowing how to survive there,” said Alexeenko, a Purdue professor in aeronautics and astronautics. “If they are to do a colony on Mars, they are not going to send pills or a pharmaceutical factory. There won’t be a CVS on Mars.”

To make sure astronauts have the nourishment and medication to survive such a yearlong venture into space; Alexeenko has taken on several research projects involving lyophilization, also called freeze drying. Lyophilization uses a sterile, vacuum environment to remove water from products such as food and medicine after they are frozen. The process converts the frozen moisture in the items to a vapor, eliminating the liquid phase.

Shelf life of medication and improve

The results increase the stability and shelf life of medication and improve the ability to store and transport food while keeping its nutritional value. Lyophilization is in almost half of biopharmaceutical medications. “If they are to do a colony on Mars; not going to send finished pills or a pharmaceutical factory,” Alexeenko said. “They have to reinvent how medicines will stored and carried and lyophilization will involved because they will need to preserve medicines long term.”
Alexeenko is founding co-director of the Advanced Lyophilization Technology Hub, or LyoHub, based in the Birck Nanotechnology Center at Purdue’s Discovery Park. Fellow founding co-director and a professor of industrial and physical pharmacy. Food and medicine aren’t the only items that can submitted to lyophilization. Alexeenko said a biological water treatment system for space stations and space colonies focuses on keeping bacteria alive in a freeze-dried state. The bacteria can then used to treat the water.

The most important technologies

They think it is the least known of the most important technologies invented in the 20th century. “If you look at the impact, it’s quite significant. There are so many aspects of it beyond space; such as manufacturing and technology. Pharmaceuticals are a big recipient of the benefits of freeze drying. It was first used to stabilize blood plasma to treat childhood infections before vaccines available and later allowed the use of blood banks during World War II and soon after allowed the mass production of penicillin.
It is now part of the process for many new anti-cancer and anti-rheumatoid arthritis medicine and many vaccines. Lyophilization research focuses more on the process itself compared with how it can used. New control methods and sensors are improving a less-than-efficient process that Alexeenko to making cookies in an oven, one batch at a time.

But you do  not necessarily know what’s going on until it is done and you pull them out. But sensors can provide information in real time and controls can keep the process within a range that safe for the molecule that are impacted.” The industry-university partnership also has producing a first technology road map in lyophilization and is working on the first set of science-based standards for the technology.

Because it is in a vacuum; it takes a lot of energy and can difficult. It is a very complex manufacturing process with a lot of physics that are very intricate. There is a lot of room for improvement. “It’s a fairly low efficiency technology. they want to see, in my professional career, the process made much faster and continuous.”