Undergraduate Counterfeit Drug Research Opens Door to Graduate Studies in Analytical Chemistry
Newswise – A love for chemistry combined with an aptitude for machines led Kyle Burch, from Princeton, Minnesota, to do undergraduate research on anti-counterfeiting technologies in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of ‘State of South Dakota. This experience gave him the opportunity to continue working on new technology as a graduate research assistant while pursuing a PhD. in the state.
During his freshman year at St. Cloud State University, Burch was researching chemistry professor Michael Dvorak to develop and improve instruments that detect specific chemicals. “It was a very informative time and Dr Dvorak was satisfied with my work,” said Burch.
Dvorak suggested that Burch apply for a summer internship as part of the National Science Foundation‘s Undergraduate Research Experience Program, held at SDSU under the guidance of Professor Brian Logue. Participants carried out interdisciplinary research to support the South Dakota Center for Security Printing and Anticounterfeiting Technology.
“When I met Dr. Logue, he told me that my analytical chemistry skills and my background in developing prototypes would work well for the project,” Burch said. “I have a construction training as a carpenter and bricklayer and I have experience in construction. I thought it would be really fun.
Logue said, “Kyle has a unique interest in machines that we don’t often find in chemistry students. He brings hands-on instrumentation experience as well as a solid background in analytical chemistry to our research to detect counterfeit drugs.
Improve ice cubes
In the summer of 2019, Burch spent 10 weeks improving an instrument used to perform a technique called ICECLES – ICE Concentration Linked with Extractive Stirrer – which Logue and his team developed and patented in 2015. The device, which is designed for to extract traces of chemicals, combines an established method called stir bar sorption extraction with freeze to concentrate the solution.
“The main power of ICECLES is that when the sample freezes from the bottom up, the stir bar rides the ice and catches the compounds,” explained Burch, whose job it was to increase the processing capacity of the. machine. “The prototype is automated and autonomous, so it is not sensitive to environmental changes. However, at that time, he only had the ability to do two samples simultaneously. It was less than the established method.
Burch worked with SDSU Associate Professor Jay Shore, a physical chemist, and research associate Jason Sternhagen of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, to increase the maximum sample volume from 10 to 50 milliliters. “We made really good progress – multiplying the volume by five was huge,” said Burch.
Before Burch left Brookings to complete his bachelor’s degree at St. Cloud State, Logue asked if he would be interested in returning for graduate school and working on ICECLES and other analytical chemistry research as a graduate assistant in his laboratory. The assistantship covers tuition fees and provides a monthly stipend. Burch accepted and began the doctoral bachelor’s degree program, which typically lasts five years, in the fall of 2020.
Determination of the chemical fingerprint
Through a new multi-agency state research center, the South Dakota Center for Understanding and Disrupting the Illicit Economy, Logue and his research group determine the chemical makeup of drugs from various manufacturers in order to find a chemical fingerprint which will then allow them to identify counterfeit drugs.
ICECLES technology plays an essential role in the concentration and extraction of compounds for chemical fingerprinting. “We changed the way the agitation mechanism works, making it more efficient,” Burch explained. While the first prototype increased the sensitivity of the signal by 400 times, “we are now up to 2000 times (greater sensitivity)”.
This is important when detecting counterfeit drugs, especially those containing minute but deadly amounts of fentanyl, Burch said. “Being able to improve the signal means that these small amounts will not be a limiting factor as we will be able to use the majority of the sample.”
Its next goal is to improve the consistency of fingerprints derived from different brands of aspirin, which are used to show that the methodology works. Although the initial goal is to identify counterfeit prescription drugs, the technique will eventually be applied to controlled substances.
After completing his doctorate, Burch would like to run a lab. “I like the technical aspects of the laboratory, but also the personal aspect of people management. “