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The Warsaw Voice » Other » October 28, 2009
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Cocaine Detector in the Works
October 28, 2009   
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Researchers at the Wrocław University of Technology are building a device to detect cocaine in the sweat of car drivers. The device is part of a European Union project called Labonfoil.

The detector is a chip-on-strip kind of tester, or a miniature laboratory placed on the skin of the person under examination to determine the presence of cocaine in their sweat.

"The kit consists of two parts, a chip that looks like a patch placed on the person's shoulder and a data reader fitted with a sensitive optical system to scan the chemical content of the patch," said the manager of the project, Rafał Walczak, D.Sc., from the Microengineering and Photovoltaics Unit of the Microsystem Electronics and Photonics Faculty at the Wrocław University of Technology. The test will not only make it possible to determine whether a driver has taken cocaine, but also when that happened and what the dose was. The researchers are planning to further develop the sensor to detect other kinds of drugs.

All together now
The Labonfoil project was launched in May 2008 and has been conducted by research and development institutes and non-profit companies in Spain, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Britain, Ireland and Poland. Alongside Walczak, other Polish researchers taking part in the project include Prof. Jan Dziuban and Patrycja Szczepańska, M.Sc.

The project, under way as part of the EU's Seventh Framework Program, aims to design and build four cheap and easy-to-use devices based on state-of-the-art microengineering and biotechnological technology.

"The cocaine detector we have been building is one of four devices of this kind that are being developed," says Walczak. The other three detectors are designed as lab-on-chip devices where samples will not be analyzed in chip strips stuck to the skin, but on chip pads made of silicon, glass or plastic. The analyzed values will be read in docking stations for disposable pads. Depending on the type of material under analysis, different reagents will be introduced into the miniature lab. Miniaturization will make the analysis cheaper and test results will be obtained faster.

Another device under development will enable quick sample analysis in a doctor's office rather than in a lab where samples are traditionally sent for examination. This device will be used to monitor the condition of patients suffering from colon cancer. Quick analysis of the colon cancer marker (a chemical substance) in a patient's saliva will show if the disease is progressing or not.

The third researched device will be used to test patients' blood and the food they eat for the salmonella and campylobacter bacteria which cause food poisoning. "This device is supposed to detect the bacteria and also show what strains exactly we are dealing with," Walczak says. "This will make it possible to choose the right therapy."

Inside the nail-sized chip, the bacteria will be multiplied using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Then they will be selected and concentrated. The chip will be used with a docking station encapsulated in a casing sized two-by-two centimeters. The only disposable part in every test is the small and inexpensive chip."

The Labonfoil project is also expected to result in the development of a detector to determine the amount of algae in coastal waters. "This part of the project is being carried out for Britain and Ireland," says Walczak. "The project is important because the amount of algae testifies to the quality of littoral waters, water oxygenation and the content of carbon dioxide in the air. So far, such monitoring has necessitated large and expensive apparatus. When measuring stations become miniaturized and less expensive, there will be more of them in coastal areas."

The project is scheduled for completion in 2012 when all four devices will undergo clinical tests, so that they do not remain just theoretical designs, but prototypes that are fit for application in practice. "We hope to find a company to produce such detectors," Walczak says. "We also hope Polish manufacturers will be interested in producing components for the devices."
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