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Award Funds Malaria Drug Anti-Counterfeiting Technology

Muhammad Zaman (Cydney Scott, Boston University)

Muhammad Zaman (Cydney Scott, Boston University)

The organization Saving Lives at Birth has awarded a Boston University engineering professor a grant to complete development of technology that can determine the potency of drugs like those to treat malaria. The two-year $250,000 grant will fund Muhammad Zaman’s (pictured left) work on PharmaCheck, a handheld microfluidic — lab-on-a-chip — device.

PharmaCheck scans pills with fluorescence and imaging to measure such properties as their concentration. Current portable quality-control labs in the developing world are not able to accurately measure the percentage of the active pharmaceutical ingredient or other important quality attributes of medicines. And many of the current methods require confirmation of field tests by full-fledged and remote quality control labs.

A study published in May pointed out the need for more effective means of checking on the adequacy of malaria drugs. In that study, researchers at NIH reported on 27 tests of drugs bought in Asia and Africa over almost a dozen years, beginning in 1999. The researchers found that a paucity of active ingredients rendered some antimalarial drugs ineffective. In addition, one-third of the drugs tested were found to be ineffective, counterfeit, or expired.

PharmaCheck, which has reach proof-of-concept stage, consists of the microfluidics chip smaller than a credit card, a pump, and tubing, which in total weighs less than 10 pounds and takes up about as much space as a shoebox. Zaman says, “The device will be an easy-to-use, robust system,” adding that “each test will cost only a few cents at most,” and can also test drugs to treat tuberculosis and other diseases.

PharmaCheck’s development has been supported so far by the United States Pharmacopeial Convention, the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation. and the US Agency for International Development. Saving Lives at Birth awarded the grant through its Grand Challenge through Development competition. The organization is a consortium of U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Bill  and Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, and the U.K. Department for International Development.

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