3D-printed electrochemical pestle and mortar for identification of falsified pharmaceutical tablets

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Falsified medicines and healthcare supplements provide a major risk to public health and thus early identification is critical. Although a host of analytical approaches have been used to date, they are limited, as they require extensive sample preparation, are semi-quantitative and/or are inaccessible to low- and middle-income countries. Therefore, for the first time, we report a simple total analysis system which can rapidly and accurately detect falsified medicines and healthcare supplements. We fabricated a poly-lactic acid (PLA) pestle and mortar and using a commercial 3D printer, then made carbon black/PLA (CB/PLA) electrodes in the base of the mortar using a 3D printing pen to make an electrochemical cell. The pestle and mortar were able to crush and grind the tablets into a fine powder to the same consistency as a standard laboratory pestle and mortar. Using melatonin tablets to characterise the device, the 3D-printed pestle and mortar was able to detect the concentration of melatonin in the presence of insoluble excipients. The calibration plot showed a linear response from 37.5 to 300 µg/mL, where the limit of detection was 7 µg/mL. Electrochemical treatment was able to regenerate the CB/PLA working electrode allowing for repeated use of the device. In a blinded study, the device was able to accurately determine falsified melatonin tablets with recovery percentages between 101% and 105%. This was comparable to HPLC measurements. Overall, these findings highlight that our 3D-printed electrochemical pestle and mortar is an accessible and effective total analysis system that can have the ability to identify falsified medicines and healthcare supplements in remote locations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100
JournalMicrochimica Acta
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 12 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

The final publication is available at Springer via https://doi.org/10.1007/s00604-022-05202-y. Self archiving policy here: http://www.springer.com/gp/open-access/authors-rights/self-archiving-policy/2124, also linked to from here: http://www.sherpa.ac.uk/romeo/search.php?id=74&fIDnum=|&mode=simple&la=en


  • 3D-printed electrodes
  • Carbon black
  • Pestle and mortar
  • Pharmaceutical analysis
  • Falsified medicines
  • Melatonin
  • Vitamin C


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