Health

New Tests Rapidly Identify Counterfeit Medications

Counterfeit medications are a serious and sometimes deadly problem in developing countries. But two teams of U.S.-based scientists have developed quick tests can identify counterfeit drugs before they can cause harm.

The researchers presented the new testing methods this week at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia. Scientists hope their efforts can help prevent the thousands of deaths caused by fake medicines every year.

Counterfeiting medications is a lucrative and popular enterprise. The World Health Organization estimates that 10-to-30 percent of drugs sold in developing countries are fake.

“It appears that a lot of counterfeit drugs are coming out of Southeast Asia and Northern Africa,” said Toni Barstis, a chemist at Saint Mary’s College in the Midwestern state of Indiana. “This is much more of a problem in developing countries because of a lack of a strong regulatory system. This could vary from people in the backyard making counterfeit drugs to a more organized ring.”

To begin tackling this problem, Barstis and a team of undergraduate students focused on creating a test to identify the pain and fever medication Panadol, also known by its brand name Tylenol. The medication’s active ingredient, Acetaminophen, is absent or insufficient in the fake pills. And it is commonly used in fake antimalarial drugs and antibiotics, where it is ineffective.

Barstis’s test, which she developed with colleagues at nearby Notre Dame University, consists of chemically treated paper the size of a business card. A person simply rubs a pill on the paper and dips it in water. She says color changes on the paper indicate suspicious ingredients.

"The whole thing takes less than five minutes. We had children from 5 [years old] through adults of 90-plus conduct this test. And those darn kids -- they performed some races. The record for speed with these tests stands at 1 minute 38 seconds," Barstis said.

Barstis’s team also checked their paper test for accuracy. They analyzed 570 Panadol pills, many with fake ingredients added by the researchers.

"Now we’re working with pharmacists in Kenya. They have a vested interest in the quality of their products. We want to make sure that this is a viable product in the field," Barstis said.

Barstis says the team is close to developing similar paper tests for several other popular medicines. And she is considering how to make the tests widely available.

"We’ve talked about starting a nonprofit [organization]. We’ve talked about working with non-governmental organizations. We purposely want an inexpensive, low technology device. We’re looking for something really cheap -- under a quarter [i.e., 25 cents] for sure -- so that people can use them," Barstis said.

At the Georgia Institute of Technology, chemist Facundo Fernández has spent 10 years working on a different testing method. Fernández uses standard laboratory technology to inventory the components in suspicious medicines, based in large part on the amount of matter they contain. The inventory is called a mass spectrum.

"The mass spectrum of a genuine molecule looks very different from the mass spectrum of a fake, in most cases," Fernandez said.

As part of a study, Fernández’s team collaborated with 11 African countries to detect fake antimalarial drugs. It also recently tested 900 samples from Cambodia in only two weeks, a task the team says would have taken months using traditional approaches.

Fernández says his method can detect even the best fakes.

"It depends on the type of mass spectrometer that you use. The higher the resolution of your equipment, the better you can resolve between two molecules that look almost identical," Fernández said.

Although his approach requires a laboratory, Fernández is working on a similar tool that researchers can use in the field.

The new techniques should help combat what the World Health Organization calls a serious threat to health care systems around the world.
Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Defense Teams Leave Khmer Rouge Tribunal Hearingi
X
18 October 2014
Defense lawyers for Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan boycotted an opening hearing for the two men on Friday, leaving the courtroom and putting the second and final phase of the trial for the two men in limbo. Nuon Chea’s team has asked for a disqualification of four judges, while Khieu Samphan’s team has asked for an appeal on an initial judgment against him. Neither request has yet been heard, but tribunal officials say they will be. It remains unclear what will happen next with the hearing. (Kong Sothanarith, Phnom Penh)

English with Mani & Mori

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hit the Nail on the Head (Movie: Inside Job)i
X
13 October 2014
You can say, "The professor 'hit the nail on the head' when she said, that we cannot demand respect, respect must be earned and not given freely." What does it mean? Watch here. For more videos - go to www.youtube.com/KhmerSpecialEnglish or www.khmer.voanews.com/maniandmori. To contact Mani & Mori - write to them at maniandmori@gmail.com.
Video

Video Hit the Nail on the Head (Movie: Inside Job)

You can say, "The professor 'hit the nail on the head' when she said, that we cannot demand respect, respect must be earned and not given freely." What does it mean? Watch here. For more videos - go to www.youtube.com/KhmerSpecialEnglish or www.khmer.voanews.com/maniandmori. To contact Mani & Mori
Video

Video Speak of the Devil (Movie: Easy A)

You can say, "Speaking of the devil, there she is! Hey, we were just talking about you a moment ago." What does it mean? Watch here. For more videos - go to youtube.com/KhmerSpecialEnglish. To contact Mani & Mori - write to them at maniandmori@gmail.com.
Video

Video Rock the Boat (Movie: 500 Days of Summer)

You can say, "Things are going really well between the two of you - he's happy and you're happy, so why 'rock the boat'?" What does it mean? Watch here. For more videos - go to www.youtube.com/KhmerSpecialEnglish. To contact Mani & Mori - write to them at maniandmori@gmail.com.
Video

Video Get Over It (Movie: Shutter Island)

You can say, "No family is perfect, we argue, we fight. So that fight you had with your cousin last year - 'get over it'." What does it mean? Watch here.
See more >>>