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A new technique, based on Raman spectroscopy, will help in the fight against counterfeit pharmaceuticals.
By shooting a laser at the target, Raman spectroscopy probes molecular vibrations that are unique to certain chemical bonds, thus allowing researchers to identify specific molecules through their unique Raman spectrum.
Suspect drugs need to be analysed quickly and without having to open the packet, which causes problems with this technique as it usually only works on very small areas, and on the surface only, thus making it difficult to spot fake drugs that are encased in capsules, blister packs or bottles.
To get round this packaging problem, researchers at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Didcot, UK, used a version known as spatially offset Raman spectroscopy (SORS), in which the detector is slightly offset from the point where the laser hits the sample. This allows the detector to detect photons that have spent time travelling through the actual drug, rather than ones simply bounced off the packaging.
The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory researchers are now setting up a company to develop SORS for commercial use in the fight against counterfeit drugs.