"As a result, use of this approach may significantly expand in medicine, scientists said."
New York, July 16 - In what could alleviate the deadly problem of adulterated drugs in the developing world, researchers have created an inexpensive and simple chemical test, or assay, that can spot fake anti-malaria drugs.
The World Health Organisation has estimated that about 200,000 lives a year may be lost due to the use of counterfeit anti-malarial drugs.
What we need are inexpensive, accurate assays that can detect adulterated pharmaceuticals in the field, simple enough that anyone can use them, said Vincent Remcho, professor of chemistry at the Oregon State University (OSU) in the US.
Although simple and cheap, the new test is actually a highly sophisticated colorimetric assay that consumers could use to tell whether or not they are getting the medication they paid for -- artesunate -- which is by far the most important drug used to treat serious cases of malaria.
The assay also verifies that an adequate level of the drug is present.
A single pill can be crushed, dissolved in water, and when a drop of the solution is placed on the paper, it turns yellow if the drug is present.
The intensity of the colour indicates the level of the drug, which can be compared to a simple colour chart.
The researchers at OSU took the system a step further, and created an app for an iPhone that could be used to measure the colour, and tell with an even higher degree of accuracy both the presence and level of the drug.
The technology is similar to what can be accomplished with computers and expensive laboratory equipment, but is much simpler and less expensive.
As a result, use of this approach may significantly expand in medicine, scientists said.
The findings on the new technology were published in the journal Talanta.