The report will appear in the Nov. 15 edition of Analytical Chemistry, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.
"Our technology provides a hand-held sensing device capable of real-time detection, reducing the time between drug seizure and laboratory analysis," says Desmond Stubbs, a doctoral candidate in chemistry working under the direction of William Hunt, Ph.D., a professor of electrical engineering at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
The sensor, which performed well in the lab and in a field test with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, is "an elegant fusion of biotechnology and microelectronics," according to Hunt. This combination of disciplines makes the sensor superior to previous "electronic noses." The U.S. government will spend more than $19 billion this year in the war on drugs, according to the Office of National Drug Policy. Police dogs are important tools in this battle; their highly developed olfactory systems can detect small molecules in the part-per-billion range.
But using dogs has its drawbacks. They require expensive handlers to train and care for them, and the seized drugs must still be sent to the lab for further analysis adding trained technicians and costly lab equipment to the tab.
Plus, scientists still don't know exactly what chemicals the dogs are sensing, allowing for significant variations from one dog to the next. Dogs also have trouble detecting specific drug targets in the presence of other odors, such as coffee grounds. "Unfortunately, the illicit drug traffickers are aware of this
Contact: Michael Bernstein
American Chemical Society