Researchers in Korea have developed a wireless sensor and a smartphone app that can detect the presence of speed in a drop of human urine in seconds. The prototype device is also portable enough to be worn as a bracelet, has unprecedented sensitivity for amphetamines with low risk for false-positive results, and costs about $50 to produce. They present their proof-of-concept design September 28 in the journal Chem.
"Conventional drug detection generally use techniques that require long operation time, sophisticated experimental procedures, and expensive equipment with well-trained professional operators; moreover, they are not usually portable," says co-senior author Joon Hak Oh, who heads an organic electronics laboratory at Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH). "Our method is a new type of drug sensor that can solve all these problems at once."
The Oh lab, which has expertise in sensor technology, worked on the project in collaboration with the lab of the paper's other senior author, Kimoon Kim, who studies molecular recognition at POSTECH and the Institute for Basic Science (IBS) by using a family of hollowed-out pumpkin-shaped molecules called cucurbiturils. This partnership was inspired when Ilha Hwang, a senior scientist in the Kim lab, had the hypothesis that amphetamines—which he saw on news reports are being widely abused—would tightly bind to cucurbituril molecules and thus help in drug detection.
The researchers tested their sensor by adding amphetamines to urine and then evaluating results sent via Bluetooth from the sensor to an Android app. False-positive results were not detected in human urine, but it's impossible to rule out the possibility that they could occur. Further testing in clinical settings will need to be conducted before the product can be commercialized, but the ultimate goal would be to provide a mechanism for on-site drug testing. For this purpose, the researchers miniaturized the sensor so that it can fit and analyze samples on a bracelet.