DNA tracking of fake medicine

Criminals selling falsified medicines to profit from deceiving vulnerable malaria sufferers, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America, could more easily be brought to justice as international forensic experts work on new DNA tracking techniques.

Indepth forensic DNA analysis led by Flinders University and experts from the Lao-Oxford-Mahosot Hospital-Wellcome Trust Research Unit and Oxford Universsity, investigated whether bacterial, plant, fungal, animal and even human DNA traces, or environmental DNA (eDNA) could be found in the ingredients of falsified (also known as counterfeit) antimalarial medicines.

The WHO estimates at least 10% of medicines sold in low and middle-income countries are either substandard or falsified – with falsified antimalarials prevalent in disease hotspots where access, affordability and corruption supports their distribution.

South Australian collaborators at Flinders University and the University of Adelaide ran massively parallel sequencing to compare environmental or ‘eDNA’ signatures between falsified and genuine antimalarials collected in Southeast Asia.

“We found a much greater diversity of eDNA in the falsified tablets, with differences between the diverse falsified packaging types, as well as traces of human DNA,” says Flinders PhD graduate Dr Jennifer Young, who led the DNA analysis with a multidisciplinary team based in Lao People’s Democratic Republic and elsewhere.

The findings, published in Scientific Reports, focused on falsified antimalarial medicines which are a major threat to global health as a prime target of criminal manufacturers and distributors.

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