Bioanalysis Zone

Novel paper-based device identifies suspicious medications


A collaborative study between researchers from University of Notre Dame (IN, USA) and Hamline University (MN, USA) has developed a paper device that utilizes diverse classifications of reagents to recognize materials or functional groups located within pharmaceutical products.

The research was presented recently at the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (held 21–24 August) PA, USA.

Identification of compromised medication is a demanding challenge due to the numerous ways in which they may be degraded as well as the variety of chemical adulterants and degradation products to identify.

Furthermore, poor quality medication may still contain traces of the active ingredient, so merely detecting the presence of these ingredients is not sufficient.

The paper device developed comprised 12 separate lanes divided by a wax barrier containing an assortment of reagents to distinguish materials or functional groups located within pharmaceutical products.

“People who don’t have access to the best-quality medicines also don’t have as many resources to buy the analytical instrumentation to detect the quality problems,” commented Marya Lieberman (University of Notre Dame).

“Instead of a $30,000 instrument; we’ve developed a $1 paper card. We designed the card so it would be as easy and inexpensive to use as possible.”

To employ the device, researchers initially compressed an antibiotic pill and spread the resulting powder across the 12 lanes. The bottom of the device is then rested in water for 3 minutes so that the reagents and powder can interact, forming colored reactions between the reagents and products within the pill.

The colored pattern acquired from the sample is then compared to patterns obtained from control samples of high-quality pharmaceutical products. The comparison can be performed by eye or utilizing an image-analysis program.

Ceftriaxone is an antibiotic identified by the World Health Organization as essential, however; it is heat sensitive and will degrade if incorrectly stored.

For use within the study, the team subjected ceftriaxone to high temperatures and observed a distinct colorimetric difference between the degraded ceftriaxone and the correctly stored version, verifying the results via liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry.

In conjunction with an associated project at Hamline University, further research is being conducted as to whether a portable X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy device can be developed to identify toxic heavy metals, commonly found in colorants within counterfeit pills.

In regards to future research, Lieberman maintains her focus on the developing world, now targeting the analysis of supplements and herbal medicines “sometimes those ‘herbal products’ are actually spiked with pharmaceuticals,” she explains. “The paper test cards could be a defense against this.”

Additionally Sarah Bliese (Hamline University) commented on pursuing further work within paper test devices, aiming to develop a test card to assist first responders to discern abusive drugs and distinguish them from licit medicines or household products.

Source: American Chemical Society press release.Presented at: 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society Conference. Philadelphia, USA, 21–24 August 2016.


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