New Portable Device to Help Detect Tainted Medicines, Supplements

New Portable Device to Help Detect Tainted Medicines, Supplements
An Indian-origin researcher is developing a low-cost, portable device to detect tainted medicines and food supplements that otherwise can make their way to consumers.

"There is a big problem with counterfeit and sub-standard medicines in poorer countries, particularly in Africa and Asia," said Soumyajit Mandal, assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, US.

Mandal and his collaborators are developing a small, box-like detector that has been preliminary tested in field trials.

"Current results are very promising and have advantages over competing methods," Mandal said.

"The required instrumentation is simple and low-cost, compared to other analytical techniques, such as optical spectroscopy," he noted.

The device uses Nuclear Quadrupole Resonance (NQR) spectroscopy, a non-invasive and non-destructive analytical technique for medicines and supplements in pill or powder form.

Mandal's research team proposes what it calls a "chemometric passport approach" for quality assurance.

Data on packaged medicines will be derived from a spectroscopic analysis performed at the point of manufacture.

The contents of the packet will later be authenticated by matching the results of another spectroscopic analysis using unique chemical identifiers from a reference spectrum.

Authentication information can be accessed either from a secure database stored in the cloud, or from information encoded directly within the product barcode. The absence of a match triggers a "contents don't match the label" alarm on the testing device.

Mandal said that capability would be particularly useful at customs checkpoints and postal sorting offices when a barcode might not be visible.

"The work builds on - and improves - a related project introduced in Europe a few years ago to create a portable, low-cost detector for medicines," he said.

Mandal said the detector he and his colleagues are developing is much more flexible (capable of analysing a wide variety of medicines and dietary supplements), and more sensitive or capable of measuring smaller quantities.

The findings will be published in the journal IEEE/ACM Transactions on Computational Biology and Bioinformatics.

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