Belgian researchers create new devices for the rapid analysis of drugs


Researchers at the University of Antwerp have coordinated a European project to create devices that will detect illicit drugs more effectively. The first prototypes of these innovative detectors have recently been officially presented.

The EU's borders are major gateways for illicit drugs, and customs and border control officials are faced with the constant challenge of detecting these dangerous substances and protecting the public. But the methods currently used to detect illicit drugs are not particularly accurate, whether using so-called colorimetric tests (substances are revealed when a specific reagent is added), or they are very costly and not very portable, in the case for the so-called spectroscopic tests (when substances are analysed on the basis of the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation they emit or absorb).

As part of the European BorderSens project, the University of Antwerp has coordinated the work of 15 partners from 8 EU Member States to develop lighter, more accurate drug-analysing devices, with the aim of tackling drug trafficking more effectively.

Three new prototypes have recently been presented by Belgian researchers, with a view to their use by the police and customs authorities. The most effective, the BorderSens Array, makes it possible to automatically detect the most commonly found drugs, and can be easily adapted to new substances that may arrive on the market in the future. The second prototype, called Single Sensor, is less complex and also less expensive than the first model, but is still able to detect the most commonly used drugs. The last model, MIP Sensor, is more specialised.  This device is capable of detecting amphetamines even in low concentrations, for example in a saliva sample.

The researchers at the University of Antwerp predict that these technologies will soon be mass produced by manufacturers under licence, thereby paving the way to commercial applications beyond the fight against drug trafficking.