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New edible security tag for drugs can help prevent counterfeiting

The tags can last up to two-months without degrading the proteins.


New edible security tag for drugs can help prevent counterfeiting
According to the Purdue team, a counterfeiter would have to uncrack a complicated puzzle of patterns not fully visible to the naked eye to imitate the drug. Image Credit: Purdue University /Jung Woo Leem

The threat of counterfeit medicines or fake medicines is not new. This billion-dollar cynical trade is not only claiming thousands of lives each year but also undermining the credibility of health systems around the world.

To protect prescription drugs from counterfeiting, researchers at Purdue University have developed an edible "security tag" embedded into medicine. The work is published in the journal Nature Communications.

The edible security tag, a thin, transparent film made of silk proteins and fluorescent proteins genetically fused together utilizes an authentication technique called "physical unclonable functions," or PUF that acts as a digital fingerprint for each drug capsule or tablet.

Video Credit: YouTube/Purdue Engineering

Each time an LED light shines on the tag, it generates a different random pattern, which is further used to extract digital bits to produce a security key. Pharmacies and consumers could use this key to verify that a drug is authentic, making it extremely difficult for counterfeiter and even the manufacturer to re-create an identical PUF tag.

According to the Purdue team, a counterfeiter would have to uncrack a complicated puzzle of patterns not fully visible to the naked eye to imitate the drug.

In addition, the edible tag is capable to hold much more information such as the dose and expiration date. The tags can last up to two-months without degrading the proteins. The next step for the team now would be to confirm that the tag lasts as long as the medicine does without compromising the key ingredients and potency of the drug.

"Our concept is to use a smartphone to shine an LED light on the tag and take a picture of it. The app then identifies if the medicine is genuine or fake.

Jung Woo Leem, a postdoctoral associate in biomedical engineering at Purdue.

The researchers are currently working to combine the tags with a smartphone app that could be used by both pharmacies and consumers to verify that a drug is authentic.

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