Smarter drugs: Raman IV

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  • Published: Oct 1, 2013
  • Author: David Bradley
  • Channels: Raman
thumbnail image: Smarter drugs: Raman IV

Monitoring drugs administration

Surface-Enhanced Raman Scattering (SERS) is about to make computerized smart systems that deliver drugs to hospital patients intravenously that much safer.

Surface-Enhanced Raman Scattering (SERS) is about to make computerized smart systems that deliver drugs to hospital patients intravenously that much safer. Smart IV systems can deliver precise volumes at a precise rate, but they lack a critical ingredient to ensuring that the patient is not inadvertently harmed: they cannot know what concentration of drug has been added to the system nor can then confirm that it is even the correct drug being delivered.

Now, a new optical device developed by a team of electrical and computer engineering students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) can identify the contents of the fluid in an intravenous (IV) line in real-time, offering a simple and effective way to improve patient safety and avoid the kind of drug errors that feature too often in patient crises. The team, led by Brian Cunningham, who is the interim director of the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory at UIUC, is set to report details of the new SERS technology at the annual meeting of the US Optical Society in Orlando, Florida, held during October.

Down the golden tubes

As the saying goes: "your life is in their hands" when it comes to often rather vulnerable patients under healthcare. While serious errors of drug administration are thankfully fairly rare, they do occur - the wrong dosage is administered or even the wrong dose is added to the intravenous drug-delivery system. At best, this might mean a patient is not given a sufficient quantity of the required drug, but too high a concentration can lead to more acute side-effects, while delivery of entirely the wrong drug or two incompatible drugs together can lead to critical and adverse reactions and sometimes even death. Human error is almost always to blame and is a chief concern in hospital safety, Cunningham said. Of the life-threatening errors made during hospitalization almost two-thirds of those are associated with mistakes made in intravenous drug delivery.

To address this serious problem, Cunningham and his colleagues have turned to SERS, which they recognize as the powerful analytical tool it can be, prized for its high sensitivity in garnering molecular signals for chemical identification. They have now incorporated a nanostructured gold surface that contains millions of tiny "nano-domes" separated from each other by a mere 10 nanometres or so into the lining of an IV tube. With medication solution in the modified tube the team can use laser-induced SERS to determine the molecular signature of the drugs present in the solution. The resulting spectra can be matched against the known signatures of a database of drugs and so confirm or refute the presence of a specific medication in the IV line. The benefit of the team's approach over that of other related SERS modified surfaces is that the nano-domes are not only inexpensive to generate but can also be used to coat flexible plastic substrates by a replica moulding process with nanometre-scale precision, which makes the approach unique.

Safer medication

Preliminary tests from the Cunningham group offer a proof of principle with a range of well known medications including analgesics such as morphine and methadone, the anticonvulsant phenobarbital, the sedative promethazine, and mitoxantrone, a drug that is used in the treatment of multiple sclerosis. The team claims high sensitivity for their system offering drug detection at concentrations one-hundred times lower than the levels at which medications are usually delivered. Moreover, the system also proves itself capable of quickly analyzing two-drug combination solutions. In the next phase of this work, the team will extend the cheminformatics side of the technology to show that it would be possible to evaluate IV lines carrying up to ten different drugs at different combinations all being delivered at the same time. At the Optics Society meeting, Cunningham's team will also allude to their plans for the commercialization of the technology.

Related Links

Presentation LTh3H.4 2013: "Enhanced Contrast in Chemical and Biological Sensors"

Article by David Bradley

The views represented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

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