Theoretical and empirical detection limits have been estimated for aripiprazole (analyte) in alpha lactose monohydrate (matrix model pharmaceutical formulation) using a micro-attenuated total reflection Fourier transform infrared (ATR FT-IR) spectroscopic imaging instrument equipped with a linear array detector and a 1.5 mm germanium hemisphere internal reflection element (IRE). The instrument yielded a theoretical detection limit of 0.0035% (35 parts per million (ppm)) when operating under diffraction-limited conditions, which was 49 times lower than what was achieved with a traditional macro-ATR instrument operating under practical conditions (0.17%, 1700 ppm). However, these results may not be achievable for most analyses because the detection limits will be particle size limited, rather than diffraction limited, for mixtures with average particle diameters greater than 8.3 μm (most pharmaceutical samples). For example, a theoretical detection limit of 0.028% (280 ppm) was calculated for an experiment operating under particle size-limited conditions where the average particle size was 23.4 μm. These conditions yielded a detection limit of 0.022% (220 ppm) when measured empirically, which was close to the theoretical value and only eight times lower than that of a faster, more simplistic macro-ATR instrument. Considering the longer data acquisition and processing times characteristic of the micro-ATR imaging approach (minutes or even hours versus seconds), the cost-benefit ratio may not often be favorable for the analysis of analytes in matrices that exhibit only a few overlapping absorptions (low-interfering matrices such as alpha lactose monohydrate) using this technique compared to what can be achieved using macro-ATR. However, the advantage was significant for detecting analytes in more complex matrices (those that exhibited several overlapping absorptions with the analyte) because the detection limit of the macro-ATR approach was highly formulation dependent while that of the micro-ATR imaging technique was not. As a result, the micro-ATR imaging technique is expected to be more valuable than macro-ATR for detecting analytes in high-interfering matrices and in products with unknown ingredients (e.g., illicit tablets, counterfeit tablets, and unknown powders).

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