Nuclear quadrupole resonance (NQR) is a well established technique whereby a substance is bombarded with radio waves that temporarily change its nuclear spin, causing the compound to emit a signal that is unique.
NQR analysis is used in a variety of settings, from laboratory development to the detection of explosives but, while its potential for spotting fake drugs has long been recognised, to date the signals produce during such analysis have proved to weak to reliably detect.
Now however scientists at Sweden’s Lund University and King College London in the UK have developed analysis methods capable of detecting these weak signals enabling the identification of counterfeit pharmaceuticals.
Andreas Jakobsson, leader of the Lund team explained that: “We have succeeded in developing mathematical algorithms which allow us to capture [the weak signals given off by compounds in drug products.”
Prof Jakobsson added that the group “have also managed to filter out interference from metals, for example, which are often found both in explosives and in the protective packaging around tablets.”
The Anglo-Swedish team is working to develop a “briefcase sized” detector capable of identifying fake pharmaceuticals based on their chemical composition and claim that, in principle, such technology could provide a yes/no answer in around a minute.
Development of the prototype is being part funded by a £473,000 (€570,236) grant from the Wellcome Trust in the UK and similar awards made by the Swedish Research Council and the Carl Trygger Foundation.