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Grad student wins award

| Thursday, October 16, 2014

Abigail Weaver, a chemistry graduate student at Notre Dame, received the 2014 Baxter Young Investigator Award for her work aimed at analyzing and identifying counterfeit drugs. Her winning research project was titled, “New Analytical Tools for Qualitative Pharmaceutical Analysis in Field Settings.”

Weaver completed her undergraduate education at Anderson University and earned her master’s degree at Purdue University. She is currently in her fifth year as a graduate student at Notre Dame.

“The aim of the Baxter Young Investigator Award is to reward research in the development of therapies and medical products,” Weaver said.

The prestigious award is awarded by Baxter International Inc., a global healthcare company headquartered in Deerfield, Illinois. It is open to graduate and post-doctoral students in the Midwest and includes four different scientific categories, such as life sciences, medical device engineering and pharmaceutical sciences. Weaver won the prize in the company’s instrumental and analytical science division.

The introduction of Weaver’s research project states statistical information regarding the pharmaceutical supply chain’s modern complexity. According to Weaver, the U.S. imports 40 percent of finished medications, as well as 80 percent of active ingredients.

Weaver said her project was aimed at overcoming the problem imposed by the counterfeit pharmaceutical industry. She helped develop a chromatography paper that tests the contents of any pharmaceutical drug swiped across it.

“The problem is poor quality drugs,” Weaver said. “The test card makes a profile and screens the pharmaceuticals, so that you can see if there’s a variation in the active ingredients.

“You get a color bar code of the pharmaceutical that can be compared with the pattern of colors the authentic drug gives. We can identify differences between the two drugs based on the color bar code.”

Weaver said the guidance of Marya Lieberman, Notre Dame associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry and the efforts of undergraduate students, helped make this project possible.

“Marya Lieberman had started the project and was working with undergraduates,” Weaver said. “I’ve been working with her for four-and-a-half years.”

Weaver said her paper-based test minimizes the gap between the scientist’s lab and the real world by acting as an inexpensive way to check for quality pharmaceuticals. Additionally, she has already completed some work with the FDA and has used the test in several developing countries, such as Haiti and Kenya.

“I had done a little bit of research already with Lieberman,” Weaver said. “We were working with the Haiti program to find a low-tech method for quantifying medication in salt for lymphatic filariasis. That work was taken down to Haiti and was implemented in a salt plant [there].”

Despite her extensive research and accomplishments, Weaver said she is not finished yet. She continues to work towards promoting scientific technologies that aim to improve the standard of living in developing countries.

“I would like to see organizations using this test to screen pharmaceuticals,” Weaver said. “I would also like to see it inspire other people to develop technologies that work in developing countries.”

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About Selena Ponio

Selena Ponio is from Dallas, Texas and is currently a senior at the University of Notre Dame. She is the Associate News Editor for The Observer. Selena lives in Breen-Phillips hall and is majoring in International Economics with a concentration in Spanish and is minoring in Journalism, Ethics & Democracy.

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