Fake drugs

Detection of falsified medications with paper test cards

Marya Lieberman, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry (UND); Toni Barstis, Department of Chemistry and Physics (Saint Mary's College)

Counterfeiting of life-saving drugs such as antimalarials and antibiotics is an increasing problem in Africa, southeast Asia, and South/Central America. In this project, the student(s) will help to develop and test low-technology analytical devices that use color-generating chemical reactions to detect counterfeit drugs.  Some of these well known inorganic and organic color tests form products that have never been structurally characterized. The student will use x-ray crystallography, UV-Vis spectrometry, and imaging Raman spectroscopy to determine the stoichiometries and structures of the colored compounds formed in several of these classical qualitative analysis reactions. For example, ninhydrin at room temperature gives an orange product with ampicillin and a green product with amoxicillin--not Ruhemann's Purple, which is formed at high temperatures. Structural characterization of these products will help us pick reagents that can distinguish additional beta lactam antibiotics such as cephalosporins. The student will also determine the rate of degradation and degradation products that form from dry reagents under different storage conditions; these degradation reactions limit stability of the paper test cards, so understanding how the reagents break down could allow the design of storage conditions that give longer useful lifetimes in the field.

One or two students could work on this project, along with a faculty mentor from a PUI. UND crystallographer Allen Oliver will train the students to mount their crystals, aquire data and solve crystal structures. Students will learn to use the imaging Raman microscope and to analyze images using ImageJ. The project could continue as collaborative work in the academic year, giving access to the XRD facilities to PUI faculty and students.  The project requires good communications skills, a self-motivated and independent personality, and two semesters of organic chemistry with lab.  Coursework in inorganic or analytical chemistry would be beneficial. Crystallographic characterization of any of the unknown reaction products would be publishable in an inorganic journal (Inorganic Chemistry, Dalton, or maybe Acta Cryst C), and following the chemical reactions spectroscopically on the paper test card would be publishable in analytical journals like Lab on a Chip.  Both projects could be presented at an ACS meeting.