Fake Malaria Meds Meet Their Match in a Handheld Spectrometer

Up to 35 percent of antimalarial drugs are useless. Engineers are combatting this counterfeit menace

3 min read
Photo: David Longstreath/AP
Pailin Pharmacy: Malaria drugs in Cambodia could be suspect.
Photo: David Longstreath/AP

Counterfeit malariamedications can easily fool the eye: The fake drugs sold in markets throughout Africa and Asia often look exactly like the authentic products. The pills are the right shape and size, the packaging is identical to that of the real brand, and the boxes often feature the duplicated logos and holographic stickers of official regulators.

But these knockoffs can’t fool chemistry. That’s why engineers from Global Good, a philanthropic invention lab in Bellevue, Wash., are trying to solve the counterfeit problem with a handheld device that uses optical spectrometry to check the chemical composition of medications. In the next few months, drug inspectors and pharmacists in Kenya, Namibia, and Laos will begin field trials of the technology.

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Restoring Hearing With Beams of Light

Gene therapy and optoelectronics could radically upgrade hearing for millions of people

13 min read
A computer graphic shows a gray structure that’s curled like a snail’s shell. A big purple line runs through it. Many clusters of smaller red lines are scattered throughout the curled structure.

Human hearing depends on the cochlea, a snail-shaped structure in the inner ear. A new kind of cochlear implant for people with disabling hearing loss would use beams of light to stimulate the cochlear nerve.

Lakshay Khurana and Daniel Keppeler
Blue

There’s a popular misconception that cochlear implants restore natural hearing. In fact, these marvels of engineering give people a new kind of “electric hearing” that they must learn how to use.

Natural hearing results from vibrations hitting tiny structures called hair cells within the cochlea in the inner ear. A cochlear implant bypasses the damaged or dysfunctional parts of the ear and uses electrodes to directly stimulate the cochlear nerve, which sends signals to the brain. When my hearing-impaired patients have their cochlear implants turned on for the first time, they often report that voices sound flat and robotic and that background noises blur together and drown out voices. Although users can have many sessions with technicians to “tune” and adjust their implants’ settings to make sounds more pleasant and helpful, there’s a limit to what can be achieved with today’s technology.

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