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Anal Chem. 2009 Jun 15;81(12):4803-12. doi: 10.1021/ac900384j.

Combining two-dimensional diffusion-ordered nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, imaging desorption electrospray ionization mass spectrometry, and direct analysis in real-time mass spectrometry for the integral investigation of counterfeit pharmaceuticals.

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  • 1School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia 30332, USA.


During the past decade, there has been a marked increase in the number of reported cases involving counterfeit medicines in developing and developed countries. Particularly, artesunate-based antimalarial drugs have been targeted, because of their high demand and cost. Counterfeit antimalarials can cause death and can contribute to the growing problem of drug resistance, particularly in southeast Asia. In this study, the complementarity of two-dimensional diffusion-ordered (1)H nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (2D DOSY (1)H NMR) with direct analysis in real-time mass spectrometry (DART MS) and desorption electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (DESI MS) was assessed for pharmaceutical forensic purposes. Fourteen different artesunate tablets, representative of what can be purchased from informal sources in southeast Asia, were investigated with these techniques. The expected active pharmaceutical ingredient was detected in only five formulations via both nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and mass spectrometry (MS) methods. Common organic excipients such as sucrose, lactose, stearate, dextrin, and starch were also detected. The graphical representation of DOSY (1)H NMR results proved very useful for establishing similarities among groups of samples, enabling counterfeit drug "chemotyping". In addition to bulk- and surface-average analyses, spatially resolved information on the surface composition of counterfeit and genuine antimalarial formulations was obtained using DESI MS that was performed in the imaging mode, which enabled one to visualize the homogeneity of both genuine and counterfeit drug samples. Overall, this study suggests that 2D DOSY (1)H NMR, combined with ambient MS, comprises a powerful suite of instrumental analysis methodologies for the integral characterization of counterfeit antimalarials.

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