Woman handling medicine bottle and reading information on an tablet

Drugs, or drug combinations, can be printed as a QR code onto edible material, potentially guarding against counterfeit or incorrect drug delivery. (Photo by Hero Images)

Innovation | Technology

Are edible QR codes the wave of the future?

The technology will allow drugs, or drug combinations, to be tailored to individual patients, researchers find

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Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have developed a new and potentially safer delivery method for medicine: an edible QR code.

Drugs, or drug combinations, can be tailored to individual patients and printed as a QR code onto edible material. In addition to the drug itself, the edible QR code can include information about the specific pharmaceutical product(s). This flexible production method may guard against counterfeit or incorrect drug delivery, says its creators.

Some seafood restaurants are already using this technology to dish up sustainability information to customers. But whether it can have an impact on a broader scale is open for debate.

Levente Diosady, professor of food engineering at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, suggests the enhancement of food traceability information or the delivery of nutritional additives to seniors as ideas that may have potential. “There is a lot of room for creative thinking,” he says. “But [each application] will need something very special to make it valuable.”

First introduced by Denso Wave in 1994 for use in the Japanese automotive industry, the Quick Response code is now widespread. It is used in supply chain management; as a marketing tool; for information accessibility; and in the entertainment sector, to name just a few applications.

QR codes can be printed with a dizzying array of materials and used for some highly creative applications. The codes can be read by most smartphones equipped with a camera and a downloadable QR code reader app. They are becoming so ubiquitous, especially in Asia, that Apple now includes an active QR code reader in the camera app on its phones.

But could they have a place in Canadian medicine?

Sylvia Hyland, chief operating officer with the Institute for Safe Medication Practices Canada, says that to advance safety in medicine, a key strategy will be the better use of technology. “This aligns with where these researchers are headed. If when scanning a code you are also able to get information about a drug and its dosage, it is not only helpful for those taking the medicine but for those delivering it to the individual.”

That said, any new technology can have unintended consequences, Hyland adds. “There must be checks and balances before something like this can be put in place. We must ensure current Canadian standards are met, dosages are consistent, the product is tamper-proof, and disposal mechanisms for out-of-date or misprinted drugs are in place.”