News Feature | August 8, 2014

UM Researchers Use Breath In New Anti-Counterfeit Drug Label

By Estel Grace Masangkay

Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a new kind of high-tech label that only needs a breath to verify whether a drug product is authentic or not.

The researchers used sophisticated equipment to produce a template with tiny features about 500 times smaller than the width of a single human hair strand. The ridges of the template appear when the indentations capture moisture from breath, revealing a hidden image when breathed upon.

Nicholas Kotov, professor of engineering who was part of the project, told Mashable in an interview, “The concept started when I noticed that traditional holography-based security tags are widely used on counterfeit bags and shoes. These tags can be very easily printed, and a new technology was clearly needed to label authentic items.”

The technology uses a nanoscale layering technique that stacks them on nanopillars. “This anti-counterfeit technology is simple to use but difficult to replicate," he said. "The buyers of authentic items can identify authenticity on site and immediately. The images can also be integrated in the design of the shoes or other items,” said Professor Kotov.

A similar anti-counterfeiting technique was reported in March this year, this time by a group of researchers from South Korea. The scientists made unique ‘fingerprint’ patterns from tiny, randomly scattered silver nanowires. Like the UM’s project, the nature of the technique also made imitation impossible for would-be counterfeiters because of the nanowires random arrangement and tiny size.

Professor Kotov said that a major challenge in curbing counterfeiting is staying one step ahead of the criminals. Efforts have been made both by pharmaceutical companies and regulatory authorities in order to eliminate drug counterfeiting, which accounts for an estimated 10 to 15 percent of the world’s drug supply — half of which is found in the U.S. These efforts include a call for the implementation of a track-and-track system for drugs and increased penalties for drug counterfeiters.