Bioanalysis Zone

Researchers develop rapid and low-cost roadside diagnostic test for cocaine


A compact ‘mass spectrometer’ that can confidently detect levels of cocaine has been developed by researchers from the University of Surrey (UK) in collaboration with Advion Ltd (Harlow, UK) and Surrey Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (UK).

This is the first time a simple diagnostic test has been proven to identify cocaine in a person’s urine or oral fluid.

The test separates cocaine from other compounds using chromatography, which can give quantitative data about the amount of the drug ingested. The test offers a level of sensitivity below the cut-off level normally used for oral fluid drug testing, allowing it to detect even low levels of cocaine in a person’s oral fluid or urine.

Although a number of portable cocaine tests are commercially available, they cannot offer quantitative data as they are based on antibody reagents – the cocaine antibody may therefore bind to something other than cocaine giving false positive results.

The research paper’s lead author, Mahado Ismail of the University of Surrey, explained, “Surface mass spectrometry is used in a wide range of disciplines to obtain chemical information from the surface of a sample. However until now it has not been possible to translate this method to low cost, portable testing.”

“This new method, which extracts analytes from a surface and separates them using chromatography, has been shown to provide a sensitive, accurate result. Our next step will be to test the efficacy of the system for monitoring other drugs of abuse, while we are also looking for follow-on funding to further develop the test.”

Researchers hope that that the tests rapid and low-cost features will make it accessible for roadside testing, workplaces and also prisons.

Sources: Ismail M, Baumert M, Stevenson D et al. A diagnostic test for cocaine and benzoylecgonine in urine and oral fluid using portable mass spectrometry. Anal. Methods doi:10.1039/C6AY02006B (2016);


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