An innovation that has a huge potential to prevent illegal drug use and public safety has been conceptualized by scientists in South Korea.
New research aimed at detecting the consumption of prohibited drugs uses a completely new method. The experiment conducted by researchers in South Korea makes use of a wearable sensor that can detect drugs in the sweat of a person.
Led by Dr. Ho Sang Jung, the research has been conducted by a team from the Korea Institute of Materials Science(KIMS).
The detection process involves a sweat patch that is appended to the skin for a short duration and can detect drug use quickly and accurately.
A report by the Research Council of Science & Technology displays the vast difference between the new method and the common drug detection process used currently.
It demonstrates that the current approach is very complex and requires a complicated method of extracting any drug components from biological specimens.
These specimens include hair, blood, and urine samples, which are further analyzed for drugs through gas or liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry.
The traditional process, therefore, takes a long time and needs proper tools and highly skilled technicians.
Rapid kits, on the other hand, can only detect a single component in a single test and have low sensitivity.
The promise of new method
For the new drug detection technique, researchers focused on evaluating the sweat of a person that makes it a non-invasive method as compared to other biological samples.
According to the researchers, it only takes one minute without requiring any additional process.
The initial challenge the researchers faced was that sweat contains only a trace amount of substance. The sensor for their detection, hence, had to be a highly sensitive one for accurate detection.
The team utilized the surface-enhanced Raman scattering technology which is “capable of enhancing the Raman signal of chemical substances by 1010 times and more,” as per the report.
Since the Raman scattering signal includes the specific signal of molecules, substance classification is possible irrespective of the drug discharged.
Researchers then used this technology to develop a wearable optical sensor, made of a silk fibroin solution, a natural protein, extracted from the silkworm cocoon.
A 160 nanometer (nm) thick film coated with 250 nanometers (nm) thick silver nanowire was then created and transferred to the medical patch to be attached to the skin.
Other than the anti-doping programs where the technology is relevant, the technology can help address social problems such as drug distribution and abuse. Interestingly, the production cost for the sweat patch is claimed to be less than 50 cents per piece.
Dr. Ho Sang Jung, the leader of the research unit, said, “The developed technology would overcome the technological limitations on identifying drug and prohibited substance use and enable drug detection without invasive and ethical problems.”