through their containers, including In an early use of one Misspelled words or easily
Sudafed capsules and Nurofen caplets such imaging technique, smudged ink on packaging
(a brand of ibuprofen), Matousek and researchers with the U.S. can betray counterfeits.
Rutherford colleague Charlotte Eliasson Food and Drug Adminis- While these two holograms
reported in Analytical Chemistry in 2007. tration compared medica- both appeared on arte-
Matousek and others are now fid- tions bought online with sunate blister packs, the
dling with the lasers and data collection versions from local suppli- one on the bottom is fake
to assess liquids through bottles. Once ers. Tickling the samples and has misaligned blocks
refined, the method could mean that withnear-infraredlight, an along its rim.
airline travelers will again be allowed to approach similar to Raman
carry on more than 3 ounces of shampoo. spec tr oscopy, th e t eam not just ne w fancy science,
And Matousek and colleagues hope a integrated information but also people and money
new version of SORS, described in Chemi- about absorbed photons directed at the right places,
cal Science earlier this year, could allow with images of the drug says Ne wton, a leader
bone and tissue to be probed, perhaps itself and some serious in the push to deal with
identifying tumors without invasive number crunching. The counterfeitantimalarials.
biopsies. That approach introduces metal near-infrared (or NIR) method showed Inallof Africa, onlythreecountrieshave
particles to the sample before bombarding that the ingredients were poorly mixed in labs with the analytical tools needed to
it with light. some online versions, the team reported monitor the supply chain the way the
in the International Journal of Pharma- FDA does in the United States, Newton
Mapping meds ceutics in2005. notes. “There’s more awareness now
Beyond determining what’s in a sample, “NIR imaging is slow, but you get a than 10 years ago, but that awareness
some methods can also reveal where. By fantastic amount of information,” says hasn’t been translated into interventions
combining existing spectroscopy with Anthony Moffat, former head of the and people dealing with the problem,”
a microscope, camera and some heavy Center for Pharmaceutical Analysis at he says.
mathematical analyses, researchers can the University of London. Researchers are making headway,
get a pixelated picture of ingredients’ More recently, Fernández and col- though, in the development of portable
distributions in a pill with stunning leagues from Georgia Tech and France devices that can be brought out of the lab
detail. screened antimalarials using several to the places where people are getting
techniques, including a version of DESI their meds. China has taken NIR spec-
Clues to fraud by combining new spec- that incorporates imaging technologies. troscopy mobile, outfitting more than
troscopy and imaging techniques with complex
Not only did the analysis reveal that some 300 vans with units for screening drugs
data analyses, researchers mapped the con-
counterfeitantimalarials were chock-full at local clinics and drugstores in rural
centrations of various ingredients in a real and
counterfeit hypertension drug. the ingredients of acetaminophen, but this amped-up regions. There are also compact and por-
are unevenly distributed in the counterfeit.
DESI also showed that the painkiller table—though still expensive—Raman
Ingredient Real Counterfeit was very evenly distributed in the fake devices that make for quick detection by
tablets, suggesting a fairly sophisticated nurses in remote locations. Fernández
operation, the team reported in Analyti- and colleagues have been working
the active cal Chemistry in 2009. on a portable DART unit, which they
Knowing how well-mixed a counter- described in Analytical Chemistry ear-feit’s ingredients are might point law lier this year.
enforcement to counterfeiters with high- “What I would really like to see is a
end equipment who know what they are nurse in a clinic in the middle of nowhere
doing versus a ramshackle setup in a being able to put a tablet in a handheld
garage. If chemical maps show specks of device and be told, ‘ You are good to go,’
an active ingredient that appear only on or ‘No, it is fake,’ ” Fernández says. “The
the surface, that might suggest that the most important thing is to preserve the
pills were pressed in machinery typically health of the patient.” s
used for genuine drugs.
Though such intelligence can help Explore more
crime fighters bust counterfeiters, s for more on interpol’s effort to fight
many researchers are more concerned pharmaceutical crimes: www.interpol.
with preventing bad meds from getting int/public/pharmaceuticalcrime/
high low to patients. Such prevention requires default.asp