Making sure the medicine you’re about to take is genuine, soon a quick scan of your smartphone may be away.
Researchers in the United States and South Korea have developed a food code that they say could play an important role in combating the growing problem of counterfeiting.
The details of this new technology, which was developed by biomedical engineers from Purdue University and the National Institute of Agricultural Sciences in South Korea, were published earlier this year in the journal ACS Central Science.
Dr Young Kim, the study’s principal investigator, told Euronews Next that counterfeit and counterfeit medicine is a “huge issue”. Although not a new problem, the issue is on the rise amid the pandemic and a boom in online pharmacies, a a large number of which are unlicensed,
Kim, a professor of biomedical engineering at Purdue University, has been working on developing anti-counterfeiting solutions for some years. This latest food code technology builds on the previous work done by him and his team to combat counterfeit drug products.
Their code, which is equivalent to a QR code, consists of a pattern created by a fluorescent silk protein. Practically invisible to the naked eye, the code can be scanned with a smartphone, providing information about a particular drug.
It can be affixed to an individual pill, tablet or capsule, or made into small silk tags and placed in a bottle of liquid medicine, allowing consumers or other users to verify the authenticity of a particular drug. .
Current authenticity solutions focus more on the packaging of drugs, Kim said. These include printing barcodes or QR codes on packaging, placing RFID tags on them and using anti-tamper devices.
This is all important. But Kim and his team wanted to focus on “on-dose” solutions — certification at the individual dosage level.
“This means that our security tag or technology is integrated with the individual pill or drug,” he said, making it difficult to copy and reproduce.
silk from genetically modified silkworm
To create these food codes, the researchers processed silk proteins from a genetically modified silkworm, making these proteins to encode information in a variety of patterns.
“You can put in all the information you want … the expiration date, or the manufacturer, possible interactions with certain other drugs,” Kim said. “It’s like our normal platform to write some information as per requirement”.
The team processed several types of silk proteins, genetically modified from each silkworm to produce silk with a specific fluorescence emission color (cyanic, green and red, respectively).
These different types of silk proteins were then made into a matrix code – a kind of three-dimensional checkerboard pattern made up of small squares of different silks, encoding specific information.
“We have three different fluorescence colors, so that we can write down more [silk] Tag,” said Kim. “Multiple colors means you basically have a better way to encode the information”.
He said the team chose silk protein for several reasons. Most importantly, they are “highly biocompatible” – meaning that humans can safely eat and digest them. These can also be easily made into various shapes and patterns.
“It’s a very good, very universal type of biopolymer that we can use,” he said.
Counterfeit drugs are on the rise
Such technology is becoming increasingly important, as counterfeit drugs and health products are a serious issue globally.
World Health Organization (WHO) has identified the issue of counterfeit medical products as “one of the immediate health challenges for the next decade”, and estimates that more than one in ten medicines in low- and middle-income countries are substandard or misbranded. Huh.
According to the WHO, two billion people worldwide do not have access to essential medicines and other health products, creating an opportunity for substandard and counterfeit goods to flourish.
The growth of e-commerce also exposes consumers to counterfeit products, as more people buy medicines online.
According to EU law enforcement agency Europol, in Europe, the trade in counterfeit pharmaceuticals continues to grow, posing a serious threat to the health of consumers.
Its latest Intellectual Property Crime Threat Assessment, prepared in conjunction with the EU Intellectual Property Office, outlines how counterfeit goods in general have been boosted by the pandemic.
“Fake drug products, ranging from a variety of drugs to personal protective equipment or face masks, have been increasingly recognized in recent years,” the organization said. Told,
“Distribution has shifted almost entirely from physical to online markets, raising public health concerns”.
From fake drugs to fake whiskey?
Of course, counterfeiting doesn’t just happen in drugs.
During their research on tackling counterfeit drugs, Kim and her team found another use for their food code – tackling counterfeit alcohol.
As part of developing their technology, the researchers wanted to test how these codes could withstand prolonged exposure to liquids with high alcohol content, as current anti-counterfeiting techniques are relatively limited to liquid drugs, Many of which also have high alcohol content. ,
He tested the codes by dropping them in different brands of 80-proof whiskey (40 percent alcohol per volume) over a 10-month period, and found that they could still activate them consistently.
“Alcoholic spirits are vulnerable to counterfeiting. There are a lot of counterfeit whiskeys being sold,” Jungwoo Liem, a postdoctoral research associate at Purdue University who also worked on the project, said in a Statement,
Looking to the future, the team envisions entering into possible collaborations with the pharmaceutical or alcohol industry to develop their technology.
“Fake medicine is not new,” Kim said. “As you know, this has been a problem all the time. But [it’s] Nowadays it is increasing continuously”.
“So as biomedical engineers we thought: we need to do something”.