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Scientists Design a 5 Minute Test to Detect Cocaine Use

The prospect that your child could be using drugs is one of the scariest things imaginable. Now, scientists in Britain have designed a novel instrument that can be used easily by parents in the privacy of the home to take control before their kids' e

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For many parents, the prospect that their children could be using drugs is one of the scariest things imaginable. Now, scientists in Britain have designed a novel instrument that can be used easily by parents in the privacy of the home to take control before their kids' experimentation with drugs turns into a lifetime of addiction.

The Vantix biosensor, designed by Cambridge-based Universal Sensors is a quick, accurate, and inexpensive technology that can allegedly measure microscopic residue of marijuana and cocaine in saliva within a few minutes.

The device could also aid the police around the country to perform roadside tests on drivers suspected of driving while under the influence of drugs.

The company's Commercial Director, Kevin Auton stated, "In America, parents are taking samples of their children's saliva and hair and sending them off to labs to see if their children are taking drugs. If there is demand for it here, it would be an interesting market."

"It is controversial but the test can be used in the home for worried parents to test if their children are taking drugs. We are very focused on getting the test out of the laboratory and on to other platforms. It is as simple to use as a pregnancy test."

Working of Vantix biosensor

According to the scientists, the device is more sensitive and effective than existing saliva tests because it produces a digital signal instead of an analogue one.

The instrument is about the size of a small mobile phone. A saliva sample is collected by giving the suspect a disposable 5mm wide chip that is then placed in the cartridge and inserted into the reader.

The chip has antibodies embedded on its plastic surface which react to certain chemicals including the THC molecule found in cannabis.

When the antibodies detect such a chemical, a small electric current is passed into the chip which is sent through the handheld device and turns on a small light. The light signals the presence of drugs.

Up to 10 substances could be tested for at once through the use of multiple electrodes on a plastic disposable test cartridge.

An easy and cheap device

Currently, the method to determine whether someone has used illicit drugs is a rather complex process, which involves a lot of waiting time until lab results come in.

The Vantix sensor requires just one droplet of saliva from the person undergoing the test and it will produce an accurate result in only five minutes.

Universal intends the Vantix biosensor to be in the market by 2012. The device should be priced at $350 and its tests for cannabis and cocaine should cost just $1.50 to $10 depending on its use.

"We're trying to make it very inexpensive and deskilled so that you're moving the tests from a laboratory out into the field so it can be used by non-scientists," said Auton.