Fast and direct recognition of the active ingredients in tablets using hot cell membrane inlet mass spectrometry

Frants R. Lauritsen, Katrine Nielsen

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


This paper demonstrates that the active ingredient in many common tablets (anti-depressives, pain relievers, epileptic medicine and anti-histamines) can be recognized directly and without any pretreatment using hot cell membrane inlet mass spectrometry (hot cell MIMS). The tablets were simply placed in a sample vial and then dumped into a small oven heated to approximately 200°C (the hot cell). The hot cell was interfaced directly to the ion source of an electron ionization mass spectrometer (EI-MS) via a polymer membrane. A few minutes thereafter an EI-MS spectrum of the chemicals desorped from the sample was recorded. Even though the tablets contained a significant number of chemicals (fillers) and often a polymer coating in addition to the active ingredients simple EI-MS spectra were recorded, wherefrom the active ingredient could be recognized by comparison with a standard EI-MS database. Of the eight tablets tested only one tablet, Bio-Melatonin (sleeping disorder), did not give a recognizable EI-MS spectrum. Over a period of 6 months the spectra recorded from the tablets did not change and the active ingredients were always recognized. The reproducibility of signal intensities from characteristic ions following successive injections was high (≈7%) for tablets without surface coating, whereas it varied up to 25% for tablets with a surface coating. Since hot cell MIMS is fully compatible with field portable instruments our results open the possibility of creating a small portable mass spectrometer for use in paramedical vehicles for immediate, on-site identification of medications found near intoxicated patients.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Mass Spectrometry
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)119-123
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

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