Print it, Eat it
Could drug-containing QR codes fight fakes and avoid medication errors?
Roisin McGuigan |
With the rise of the smartphone, we have all become familiar with the QR code – used for everything from boarding an aircraft to paying for a service. But what if you could eat one and receive a dose of medicine?
A team from the University of Copenhagen have taken the QR code a step further, creating a system to print QR codes on to an edible material as a means to create personalized medicines. “It actually started out as a funny idea briefly discussed over lunch,” says Natalja Genina, co-author of the associated paper (1) and assistant professor in the Group of Manufacturing and Materials at the University of Copenhagen. “Then we realized that it could actually be used. First, we identified the gaps in conventional medicines. Second, we pinpointed the unique possibilities of inkjet printing technology that can be used in the production of medicine. And, as the world is now driven by digital devices and interconnected through the Internet of Things, we used our creativity and knowledge to combine all the factors and came up with the idea of the edible QR code”.
The team uses ink-containing active pharmaceutical ingredients, which are placed on an edible “paper” in the form of a QR code using inkjet printing. The QR code is resized to produce the right dose, and contains a host of relevant information – which can include the patient name, the dose, manufacturing information and expiration dates, and more. “On average, it takes around 4 to 7 minutes to print therapeutically relevant doses with the advanced printer we used in this study,” adds Magnus Edinger, a PhD fellow who worked on the project.
Genina says the system has the potential to tackle counterfeit medicines and medication errors. “Current medicines are mostly in the form of plain white tablets with few, if any, distinguishing characteristics. This can potentially allow counterfeits to enter the supply chain. Incorporation of QR codes as anti-counterfeiting features can help minimize the risk of getting a fake medicine. The encoded information will also ensure that the patient takes the right medication at the right time and in the right way. For example, an alarm can be encoded into a mobile phone, reminding the patient to scan and administer the QR code dose,” explains Genina.
Genina and her team believe the technology is ready for implementation, but it will be difficult to predict when it may hit the market. She adds, “We are now studying the following scenarios: manufacturing of patient-oriented medicine at the pharmacy, in the pharmaceutical industry, and even in the patients’ home.”
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