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University evaluates reliability of Paper Analytical Device

Carolyn Hutyra | Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The hunt for counterfeit drugs in third world countries has found an ally in Notre Dame junior Kellie Raddell. Raddell is currently hard at work with the Paper Analytical Device (PAD) program to help put a stop to counterfeit drug trafficking.

Raddell is working with a research team of students headed by Notre Dame professor Marya Lieberman and Saint Mary’s professor Toni Barstis. Raddell said counterfeit drugs are a serious problem in third-world countries.

“Companies make lots of money selling these counterfeit drugs in third world countries,” she said. “By the time we test if the drugs are real, the dealers have already changed the names and packaging.”

The PADs program works efficiently to detect certain ingredients in counterfeit drugs rather than identifying by labels, Raddell said.

“You put [a salt pad] in water, and in three to five minutes you know what’s in the drug and if it’s effective,” she said. “We’re testing to see if there are specific chemicals in the drugs.”

Raddell said this new method of detecting counterfeit drugs is the most cost-effective developed to date.

“PADs allows for quick diagnoses,” she said. “Chemicals move up with the water, and the paper will turn blue at the top if the chemicals wanted are present.”

Raddell, who has been working on the project since last summer, said her experience with PADs has been invaluable to her career aspirations.

“This research is a great way to take the skills I learn in the classroom and go out and apply them to a real world setting,” she said.

The PADs program has crossed borders to the island nation of Haiti, Lieberman said. She said the PADs project got involved in Haiti at the behest of biology professor Fr. Tom Streit.

“Fr. Streit came by to talk to me about some quality control problems that the Bon Sel factory in Haiti was having,” she said. “This factory makes salt supplemented with iodine and diethylcarbamazine citrate, and they don’t have access to the tools and instruments that we would normally use to carry out chemical analysis.”

Lieberman said she expects the program to move even further forward once the PADs are tested for reliability and repeatability. She said after field tests at Notre Dame, the group plans to expand its work into the African continent. 

“We will be working with three pharmacists with the AMPATH (Academic Model for the Prevention and Treatment of HIV) program at Moi University Teaching and Research Hospital to implement field tests in Kenya in summer 2012 and 2013,” she said. “We will be testing three types of antibiotics, two artemisinin combination therapy drugs and an analgesic.”

Raddell said a large group of students and faculty has been hard at work to ensure the success of the program.

“Currently, there are about twenty to thirty people working on this project. Research is done in the Stepan Hall of Science and in St. Mary’s science building,” she said. “We also have one large group meeting once a week.”

Even with a large number of students working on the project, Raddell said the project is far from over. 

“We need to run five hundred of each test by the end of February … We need to know if it’s effective before sending it out into the field.”