One issue that comes up from time to time in terms of Unique Device Identification requirements that are coming soon from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is how to put a unique product ID or marking on a very small product. For example, even if a bottle of pharmaceutical drugs can carry a standards based barcode, what about the pills inside? Are they real or are they counterfeit, for example?
Thanks to an incredibly interesting article recently in New Scientist, writer Paul Marks reviews several innovative methods currently being explored and tested to mark very small and individual products with a unique ID. The new technologies are primarily motivated by an urgency to end counterfeiting and the article includes some very dark statistics about the negative outcomes caused by phony drugs. But it is impossible to read about these new methods and not see how they might apply to the UDI objective across a wide range of small, individual items.
Here’s one example below, but do read the whole article if you really want to be blown away by some of the amazing things these scientists are doing:
At Ghent University in Belgium, nanomedical engineer Stefaan De Smedt is developing an edible polymer fibre that can be labelled with a telltale fluorescent barcode along its length and incorporated into a pill (Advanced Materials, DOI: 10.1002/adma.201000130).
De Smedt is experimenting with cellulose and polystyrene-based fibres. To make them, he takes a solution of the fibres and adds fluoroscein, a fluorescing agent used in medical tests. The solution is then turned into microfibres using a process called electrospinning, where the solution is squirted from a charged syringe tip onto a rotating wheel on which fibres adhere like sticky tape on a roll.
To write barcode-style stripes into these fibres – perhaps encoding information on the type of drug, its source and expiry date – De Smedt illuminates them with laser light at 488 nanometres, a wavelength which locally bleaches the fluoroscein in the fibres, creating dark stripes. The fibres are then cut by laser into 10-micrometre lengths for dropping into the mixture from which the drug will be made.
The article, entitled Invisible weapons to fight fake drugs, can be seen here.