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New Blood Testing Method Detects Potent Opioids in Under Three Minutes

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 26 Feb 2024
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Image: The microfluidic open interface system (Photo courtesy of University of Waterloo)
Image: The microfluidic open interface system (Photo courtesy of University of Waterloo)

Fentanyl, an opioid 50 times more potent than heroin, presents a major risk to public health. In recent years, there's been a growing concern over the rise in fentanyl use among drug users. Annually, this potent drug is responsible for thousands of overdose deaths globally. In response to this crisis, a breakthrough in drug testing has been achieved. Now, researchers have developed a new blood testing method capable of detecting powerful opioids, including fentanyl, more rapidly than traditional methods, thereby offering a potential lifeline in overdose situations.

This innovative method developed by a team at the University of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada) can simultaneously analyze up to 96 blood samples for the presence of opioids like fentanyl in less than three minutes, a rate that's double the speed of existing methods. To conduct the test, a small volume of blood is placed into each well of a 96-well plate, which also contains a phosphate buffer. This plate is then inserted into a device that shakes the samples. Next, a solid phase microextraction (SPME) probe is used to target and extract the drugs of interest. The final step involves analyzing the sample with a mass spectrometer connected to a microfluidic open interface. Impressively, this process yields results in approximately 90 seconds.

"The difference between our blood testing method and traditional methods used in laboratories and hospitals is that we can do it faster and reach the same conclusion," said Emir Nazdrajić, a postdoctoral fellow in Waterloo's Department of Chemistry. "Let's say someone who has overdosed is in the emergency room, and doctors need to quickly determine what they've taken to treat them effectively. The speed of our method can be lifesaving."

"There is a high demand for rapid screening methods using mass spectrometry (MS) that can decrease the turnaround time, cost, and limits of quantitation of existing methodologies," added Dr. Janusz Pawliszyn, a professor in Waterloo's Department of Chemistry. "Our method targets not only fentanyl but other drugs and certain types of diseases."

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