Counterfeiting of drugs is a huge industry with an annual turnover of more than SEK 500 billion. In Africa the situation is extremely serious. Half of the malaria medication sold there could be ineffective or even harmful. Researchers from Lund and the UK have now developed a technique that could resolve the situation.
In two years the researchers hope to have a prototype ready. It will resemble a small briefcase, in which a pharmacist, customs officer or pharmaceuticals agent can place a packet of tablets, without having to open the packet. After a minute or so the device indicates whether or not the medicine is fake.
"There are a number of advantages to this technique. It is not only reliable but also simple and cheap, which is a prerequisite if it is to be successfully put into use in developing countries", comments Andreas Jakobsson, Professor in Mathematical Statistics at Lund University and one of the researchers on the project.
The technique has its origins in the research that Andreas Jakobsson's Swedish and British colleagues usually conduct: detection of bombs and explosives. The researchers have been called on by HM Revenue and Customs in the UK to detect explosives at Heathrow Airport.
The research is based on a technique known as nuclear magnetic resonance. By exposing a substance to radio waves, the spin of the atom nuclei changes briefly. When the radio pulse is over and the resonance returns to normal, a weak signal, unique to each substance, is emitted. In this way, the researchers can usually work out what chemical substances are hiding in the material.
Researchers have long known that it should also be possible to use this technique to trace counterfeit drugs, but it has not been sufficiently well developed for this purpose. However, a recent breakthrough in the Swedish-British research group's work has changed that. Now they can also find out if a certain drug actually contains the active ingre
|Contact: Kristina Lindgrde|
Swedish Research Council