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Group fights counterfeit drugs

Jillian Barwick | Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Even thought the fall semester is barely underway, chemistry professor Dr. Toni Barstis and senior Diana Vega Pantoja have made major progress in the development of the paper analytical device (PAD) project.

The device is an inexpensive paper-based tool used to screen for counterfeit pain relievers, Barstis said.

“As part of our research, we are trying to help the people of the world to see just how big the counterfeit drug problem is,” she said. “By putting the PAD into the hands of pharmacists, they will be able to use and determine where the bad drugs are coming from.”

In collaboration with researchers at Notre Dame, Barstis, Pantoja and other student researchers from Saint Mary’s have moved ahead with the project and found great results.

“We spent the summer working on it which has helped us move forward with receiving the patent we have applied for,” Pantoja said. “Through our countless hours of field testing, we had over 560 field tests completed between the Saint Mary’s campus as well as Trinity College and the University of Notre Dame. All of this field testing has pushed us along in receiving the patent.”

The researchers did not just look to college campuses for field-testing, but also to alumnae of Saint Mary’s and donors supporting the College, Barstis said.

“We were looking to see if the test was done differently depending on age or gender,” she said. “The field tests were used on men and women between the ages of 11 and over 80 years old. There was no difference in the results of the tests, but working with different age groups was definitely interesting to see the abilities of testing and learning each individual had.”

Barstis, Pantoja and recent graduate Elizabeth Bajema were invited to present their research results at the 244th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

“Being invited to this conference was definitely an experience,” Pantoja said. “Undergraduates usually do not speak at ACS, so it was thrilling to be an undergrad who presented my research with Dr. Barstis and Elizabeth.”

Barstis said being asked to present at the meeting was an amazing feat for the women to accomplish.

“Audience members were very engaged by our research and the fact that here were three women, one being an undergraduate, presented research done from a college, not a university with a graduate program,” Barstis said.

After presenting at the ACS, Barstis and Pantoja learned other scientists had become increasingly interested in their research. They decided to submit their findings to be published.

“By proving that our PAD is sufficiently reliable based off our research, publishing our research is just another accomplishment for us to be excited about,” Pantoja said. “People are actually interested in our research and that is such an amazing thing.”

Next on the list for the PADs project is to take the field-testing overseas to countries facing an increased amount of counterfeit drugs, like Kenya, Barstis said.

“The media has helped us to create awareness for this problem and has launched our project into the minds of people across the globe,” she said. “This opportunity to help people from all over the world is a phenomenal accomplishment. Working with the student researchers from Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame, as well as the participants, has provided us with great information that we hope will take off into something great.”

Contact Jill Barwick at
jbarwi01@nd.edu