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Cadets Detect Counterfeit Pharmaceutical Drugs

Stefanie Senkow
January 8, 2019

Elenchus FellowA prescription antibiotic from Kenya may not be what it seems. That’s what two cadets at the Coast Guard Academy are finding out in their research study to detect counterfeit pharmaceutical drugs.

“In conjunction with the University of Notre Dame Distributed Pharmaceutical Analysis Lab and Chemists Without Borders, the Coast Guard Academy is validating pharmaceutical drugs sourced from developing countries,” said LT Michael Persun, Chemistry Instructor. “Specifically, we are currently studying doxycycline.”

For second class (2/c) cadet Mary Sims and fourth class (4/c) cadet Charles Omweg, being the first cadets to head up this independent research initiative has been academically enriching.

“As a fourth class, I was so excited to get this opportunity. I had often been told that these types of studies are reserved for upper class cadets,” said 4/c Omweg, Marine and Environmental Sciences (MES) major.

So what exactly are these students doing in the lab with the doxycycline samples from Kenya?

“We receive the doxycycline samples from our partners and the cadets compare the measurements of the drug contents to that of a standard sample created from pure doxycycline,” said LT Jacob Loman, Chemistry Instructor. “They then will determine how much of the active pharmaceutical ingredient is in the sample, which will either validate the pharmaceutical or identify a potential counterfeit.”

The experience of creating samples, diluting samples, measuring concentrations and collecting and analyzing data goes beyond the Coast Guard Academy classroom for 2/c Sims and 4/c Omweg.

“Independent research of this kind is helpful in getting into graduate school as admission is becoming more and more competitive,” said LT Loman.

“This project will give me exposure to the medical field, as I want to pursue a career in the Coast Guard as a physician’s assistant,” said 2/c Sims, also an MES major.

In addition to postgraduate opportunities, this research will benefit the cadets as they head out into the fleet as Coast Guard officers. /p>

“Our Coast Guard officers will be better equipped with knowledge of analytical systems and techniques, which will provide them a deeper understanding of the chemical side of counter-drug missions,” said LT Persun.