The developing world is awash in substandard, degraded or falsified medications, which can either directly harm users or deprive them of needed treatment. And with internet sales of medications on the rise, people everywhere are increasingly at risk. So, a team of researchers has developed a simple, inexpensive paper-based device to screen suspicious medications.
The researchers will present their work today at the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS, the world’s largest scientific society, is holding the meeting here through Thursday. It features more than 9,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics. A brand-new video on the research is available at http://bit.ly/ACSfakedrugdetection.
“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,” says Marya Lieberman, Ph.D. “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.”
Medications can be compromised in many different ways. For example, they may be bulked up with fillers, or they can degrade because they are stored improperly. Identifying poor-quality medications is challenging, as inspectors may not know in advance what chemical adulterants or degradation products they need to look for. Plus, bad-quality medications may contain at least some of the active ingredient, so simply detecting the presence of the real medication isn’t enough to rule out issues.
In this study, Lieberman of the University of Notre Dame, along with Hamline University undergraduate Sarah Bliese, developed a card to detect falsified or degraded antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin or ceftriaxone, both of which the World Health Organization lists as “essential.” To screen for a variety of potential quality issues, the researchers included 12 lanes separated by wax barriers on the paper device. Each lane contained a different set of reagents to detect materials or functional groups found in active pharmaceutical ingredients, degradation products or common fillers.
To run a sample, the researchers crush a pill and rub the resulting powder across all 12 lanes, and then dip the bottom of the paper card in water for three minutes. The water wicks up the lanes, bringing reagents into contact with the powder. Colors are formed when the reagents interact with the pharmaceutical, filler or degradation product. The researchers then compare the color pattern from the sample with the color patterns obtained from high-quality pharmaceutical products. The comparison can be done by eye or with an image-analysis program on a smartphone.
Ceftriaxone is sensitive to heat and breaks down if storage temperatures climb too high. As an experiment, the researchers subjected ceftriaxone to high temperatures and ran the card test, simultaneously analyzing the degradation products via liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. They verified that the colorimetric pattern for the degraded antibiotic was different from that of the correctly stored product. In addition to these tests on the pure active ingredient, Lieberman and Bliese analyzed dozens of real-world samples of ceftriaxone from Kenya and Uganda.
Unscrupulous makers of falsified medication sometimes add colorants containing toxic heavy metals to their products to make the illicit pills more closely resemble their legitimate counterparts, Bliese says. So, in a related project at Hamline University, Bliese and Deanna O’Donnell, Ph.D., are exploring whether a portable X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy device can scan pills for these substances.
In June, Lieberman and Bliese traveled to Kenya to test a new paper card which can detect substandard antibiotics. While Lieberman is currently focusing her work on the developing world, she says her cards could be applicable worldwide to perform, for example, the analysis of herbal medicines and nutritional supplements. “Sometimes those ‘herbal products’ are actually spiked with pharmaceuticals,” she explains. “The paper test cards could be a defense against this.” Bliese says her next project will be to develop a paper test card to help first responders identify drugs of abuse and differentiate them from household products or legitimate medicines.
From paper towels to cups to plastic bottles, products made from recycled materials permeate our lives. One notable exception is building materials. Why can’t we recycle concrete from our deteriorating infrastructure for use as material in new buildings and bridges? It’s a question that a team of researchers at the University of Notre Dame is examining.
“While concrete is the most commonly used construction material on earth, it is also the biggest in terms of environmental impact,” said Yahya “Gino” Kurama, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and earth sciences, who is leading the research effort. “Coarse aggregates, such as crushed rock and gravel, make up most of a given concrete volume. The mining, processing and transportation operations for these aggregates consume large amounts of energy and adversely affect the ecology of forested areas and riverbeds.”
A recent paper by a team of researchers in the journal Science questioned whether humans’ combined environmental impact has caused the planet to enter a new geological epoch, the “Anthropocene.” The scientists note the problem of concrete in particular, pointing out that more than half of the concrete ever used was produced in the past 20 years.
“Through my research, I want to contribute to efforts towards reducing these demands on our natural environment by reducing the need for natural coarse aggregates,” Kurama said. “Especially in the years to come, the renovation and replacement of our nation’s aging infrastructure will result in both an increase in the supply of old concrete rubble and the demand for new concrete. We need to be better prepared to utilize this growing resource at a higher level, which is what my research is focused on.”
The biggest barrier to using recycled concrete has been the variability and uncertainty in the quality and properties of the recycled material and how this variability affects the strength, stiffness and durability of reinforced concrete structures. Kurama’s team is trying to develop an understanding of how using recycled concrete affects the behavior of reinforced concrete structures so that buildings using large amounts of recycled material can be designed for safety and to serve their intended purpose without undesirable consequences in performance.
“Much of the research to date and the state-of-practice pertaining to sustainable use of structural concrete has focused on the partial replacement of cement with industrial byproducts, such as fly ash, slag and silica fume,” Kurama said. “In comparison, conservation of coarse aggregates has been largely ignored in the U.S., resulting in a big knowledge gap related to this material.”
Learn more: Why not recycled concrete?
The University of Notre Dame du Lac (or simply Notre Dame) is a Catholic research university located near South Bend, Indiana, in the United States.
“Notre Dame” means “Our Lady” in French and refers to the university’s patron saint, the Virgin Mary.
The school was founded by Father Edward Sorin, CSC, who was also its first president. Today, many Holy Cross priests continue to work for the university, including as its president. It was established as an all-male institution on November 26, 1842, on land donated by the Bishop of Vincennes, Indiana. The university first enrolled women undergraduates in 1972. As of 2013 about 48 percent of the student body was female. Notre Dame’s Catholic character is reflected in its explicit commitment to the Catholic faith, numerous ministries funded by the school, and the architecture around campus.
The university today is organized into five colleges and one professional school, and its graduate program awards 32 master’s and 25 doctoral degrees. Over 80% of the university’s 8,000 undergraduates live on campus in one of 29 single-sex residence halls, each of which fields teams for more than a dozen intramural sports, and the university counts approximately 120,000 alumni.
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