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MIT Researchers Use RFID to Diagnose Freeze-damaged Vaccines

The idea is to integrate a passive RFID tag with a liquid-filled vial, so that if frozen, the vial would expand, damaging the antenna enough that the tag would no longer be readable.
By David Wilson
Jul 31, 2015

A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)'s Auto-ID Lab are developing a simple RFID-based sensor that could provide a cost-effective method of detecting the exposure of vaccines to freezing temperatures. The accidental freezing of vaccine shipments is a large problem, with the majority of shipments being exposed to freezing temperatures at some point, according to one study conducted by scientists at the University of Kansas and another study performed by researchers at PATH, a nonprofit organization focused on health-care innovation. Such exposure can result in potency loss for freeze-sensitive vaccines, the scientists found, yet this issue has not been well addressed.

The MIT team, consisting of Professor Sanjay Sarma, postdoctoral associates Rahul Bhattacharyya and Isaac Ehrenberg, and graduate students Dylan Erb and Partha Bhattacharjee, has been working to find a solution to this problem. In a poster presented at the 2015 IEEE International Conference on RFID, the researchers wrote that their sensor, as a simple and inexpensive method of detecting freezing, has the potential to address a significant need "across all segments of the global supply chain."

To test the RFID sensors, the team used a household freezer fitted with the antenna cabled to an Impinj Speedway Revolution R420 RFID reader.
The idea, according to the researchers, is to integrate a passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tag with a glass vial (similar to the vials used to hold actual vaccines) that would be filled with distilled water, so that as the liquid freezes, the vial would deform and eventually crack. If a tag were mounted on this vial, the deformation could change the antenna's shape and eventually damage the antenna enough that the tag would be rendered unreadable. One or more of the sensor vials would be inserted into a shipment of vaccines. In that way, the state of the vaccines could easily be monitored at all stages of the supply chain. If any vial tags were found to be unreadable, or if visual inspection revealed broken sensors, health-care workers could then assume that the vaccines contained within had also been frozen and might be damaged or unusable.

The researchers initially experimented with a copper-tape antenna attached to a Higgs3 RFID chip harvested from an Alien Technology passive Squiggle tag, but found that the tape was too strong to be affected by the cracking of the vial. They overcame this problem by employing a technique called argon sputtering to deposit a thin adhesion layer of titanium atoms on the vial's surface, followed by a film of copper atoms in the pattern of the antenna. The copper film proved conductive enough to allow the tags to be interrogated from a distance of up to 30 centimeters (11.8 inches), yet flexible enough to easily deform along with the vial's surface. When vials froze, the team found, their antennas were sufficiently mangled that the tags could not be read at any distance.


Roland Kueng 2015-08-05 02:25:24 AM
Why not develop more smart flexible RFID sensors which measure temperature and humidity and log them. http://samlab.epfl.ch/page-104342-en.html

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