The technology, developed at the University of East Anglia, can detect extremely low amounts of amphetamines, cannabis, cocaine and opiate drugs from the sweat of a single fingerprint. The sample is taken in just 5 seconds and can be analyzed in 10 minutes using a portable device.
The test uses fluorescently tagged antibodies specific to each drug class. When a drug is present in the sample, they bind to it and stop fluorescing, and the signal is captured by the reader.
In a study published in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology, researchers at Intelligent Fingerprinting studied the use of the fingerprint test in coronary services to provide an early assessment of the possible cause of death. In these situations, standard drug testing currently uses urine or blood samples and require taking the sample to a specialized laboratory to analyze the sample using chromatography and mass spectrometry techniques.
“We compared our work to the detection of the drugs in blood or urine samples using the ‘gold standard’ … We obtained excellent correlation against blood with 96%, 92%, 88% and 97% accuracy for cannabis, cocaine, opiates and amphetamines, respectively,” David Russell, CSO of Intelligent Fingerprinting and Professor at the University of East Anglia, told me.
In addition to providing a rapid result on site, the test doesn’t create biohazard, unlike urine and blood samples, which require specialized facilities for waste disposal.
“Our test is a screen for 4 particular drugs that are commonly abused. It would not replace a full forensic toxicological analysis but would complement such a study to provide coroners with information,” said Russell.
According to Russell, the equipment costs about £4000 and each sample cartridge is about £15. In comparison, a full toxicological analysis at a lab costs between £400-600.
“At the present time the system is already used by some U.K. coroners, in drug rehabilitation services, workplace testing and within high schools. It is also being trialled in airport screening and within offender management in prisons and probation services,” added Russell. “We are developing cartridges to detect other drugs, both drugs of abuse and prescription medication.”