A group of gifted elementary school students has discovered that EpiPens, life-saving devices that inject epinephrine in the case of a severe allergic reaction, can turn poisonous after being launched into space — more evidence of the harrowing effects space radiation can have on the health of astronauts.
The students helped researchers at the University of Ottawa in Canada investigate whether the devices could be safely used in space by astronauts.
But there's some bad news: just relatively small amounts of space radiation caused the epinephrine to break down, turning it into a health hazard instead of a lifesaver — something that was previously unknown to NASA, Live Science reports.
The students from St. Brother André Elementary School’s Program for Gifted Learners (PGL) had samples of epinephrine, both by themselves and inside of EpiPens, launched into space as part of NASA's Cubes in Space program.
The University of Ottawa's Faculty of Science then analyzed the returned samples and found that the epinephrine was only 87 percent pure due to cosmic radiation, according to a statement.
The remaining 13 percent turned into benzoic acid derivatives, which are extremely poisonous.
"As part of the Cubes in Space, two cubes were put together by the students, with one going on a rocket and the other on a high-altitude balloon," said University of Ottawa chemistry professor Paul Mayer in the statement. "The ‘after’ samples showed signs that the epinephrine reacted and decomposed."
“In fact, no epinephrine was found in the ‘after’ EpiPen solution samples," he added. "This result raises questions about the efficacy of an EpiPen for outer space applications and these questions are now starting to be addressed by the kids in the PGL program."
The experiment could have lasting effects on how we treat allergic reactions in space.
"This result raises questions about the efficacy of an EpiPen for outer space applications and these questions are now starting to be addressed by the kids in the [Program for Gifted Learners] program," Mayer said.
Fortunately, not all is lost. There may be a way to package EpiPen solutions in a way that doesn't expose them to cosmic radiation — an invention that could save an astronaut's life in the future.
READ MORE: Elementary schoolers prove EpiPens become toxic in space — something NASA never knew [LiveScience]
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