Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $308,002)
Illegal drug use and distribution, particularly of opioids like fentanyl, continue to present major public safety concerns in the US, and the need for effective detection methods has never been more urgent. This proposal aims to address these limitations by developing a low-cost, handheld opioid detection device with a wide detection range, rapid results, quantification capabilities, low maintenance, and user-friendliness to combat the opioid crisis and enhance community safety. While alternative detection methods are under development, current state-of-the-art portable opioid detection devices using the spectroscopy based method face limitations such as high costs, extensive training, and inability to detect new analogues. Electrochemical (EC) sensors, like the successful glucose sensor, offer low-cost, portable, and easy-to-use devices, but face issues with specificity when applied to similar compounds. The PI's group recently invented a small molecule detection technique that lays the groundwork for sensory and analysis systems providing excellent selectivity, tunable sensitivity, and fast response by mimicking the specific recognition of the μ-opioid receptor (MOR). The proposed method aims to validate an EC sensor for noninvasive fentanyl detection using a needle electrode controlled by a palm-sized device. Compared to Raman spectroscopy, the mechanism of this EC sensor relies on a simple conductivity measurement, providing a cost-effective and portable solution for field detection, and offers an objective alternative to current presumptive tests without direct sample contact. The project includes fabricating a needle-based sensor, optimizing electrochemical signal analysis and detection for fentanyl, and testing and characterizing the sensor using forensically relevant samples. This EC sensor, with high sensitivity and responsiveness, optimized detection technique and calibration method for accurate fentanyl quantification, and validated sensor performance, will ensure robust real-world applications for fentanyl detection.
The proposed affordable, effective, portable fentanyl detection device could significantly improve forensic investigations, aid law enforcement, and contribute to public safety. The measurement techniques and devices developed here represent a unique and valuable tool for law enforcement agencies, allowing for the identification of unknown substances within complex environments in a safer and more conclusive way. This device can also pave the way for other low-cost, portable, and user-friendly detection methods for other illicit drugs, benefiting public health and safety even further. CA/NCF
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