Zaman’s PharmaCheck One of Scientific American’s Ten World Changing Ideas


Advances New Approach to Preventing Spread and Use of Substandard Medicine

By Mark Dwortzan

Associate Professor Muhammad Zaman (BME, MSE)
Associate Professor Muhammad Zaman (BME, MSE)

An estimated 20 percent to 50 percent of medicines distributed in developing countries are either counterfeit or significantly substandard, resulting in thousands of preventable medical complications and deaths. To address this problem, Associate Professor Muhammad Zaman (BME, MSE) has spent the past two years developing PharmaCheck, a fast, portable, user-friendly detector for screening counterfeit and substandard anti-malarials, antibiotics and other essential medicines.

Scientific American was so impressed with PharmaCheck and its potential to improve people’s lives that the magazine featured the concept behind it—a new approach to preventing the spread and use of substandard medicine—as one of “Ten World Changing Ideas” in its annual roundup article on proven, scalable innovations that could dramatically impact society in the near future. Appearing in the December issue along with innovations ranging from planes that snap together to smartphones as thin as a credit card, the article lauds PharmaCheck as an outstanding example of microfluidic, lab-on-a-chip technology.

“I am really honored and excited by this recognition,” said Zaman. “Our funding partners have been amazingly supportive of our high-risk approach, and we hope that this recognition and their ongoing support will enable our team to help make the world a better and a safer place for all those who battle deadly diseases.”

PharmaCheck—developed by Zaman and graduate students Darash Desai (BME), Nga Ho (BME), Andrea Fernandes (SMG, SPH) and research scientist Atena Shemiran (BME)—is simple to operate. The user places a pill into a small testing box which instantly reports the amount of active ingredient found in the pill. The team’s ultimate goal is to enable users from pharmacists to regulatory authorities to effectively and easily control the quality of medicine delivered to patients. Toward that end, Zaman and his collaborators are now pursuing a series of field studies to test PharmaCheck’s performance on anti-malarials, antibiotics, uterotonics (used to induce labor) and medications targeting tuberculosis and HIV.

The device’s clear potential to dramatically improve health outcomes in resource-limited countries has attracted significant funding over the past two years from the US Pharmacopeial (USP) Convention under the Promoting the Quality of Medicines (PQM) program funded by USAID. USP has provided financial support to complete a prototype and conduct extensive field studies in Ghana through its Center for Pharmaceutical Quality Research Center. PharmaCheck has received additional funding from Saving Lives at Birth, the Coulter Foundation, the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology, and the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA).

More information about PharmaCheck, including a video presentation, is available here.