Belgian researchers create new rapid drug analysis devices


Researchers at the University of Antwerp have coordinated a European project to create tools for better detection of illegal drugs. The first prototypes of these innovative detectors have just been officially presented.

In the European Union, borders are major entry points for illicit drugs, so the authorities responsible for customs and border controls face constant challenges in detecting these dangerous substances and protecting the public. However, the methods currently used to detect illicit drugs are either not very accurate when it comes to so-called colorimetric tests (the substances are placed in the presence of a specific reagent added to water) or very expensive and not very portable when so-called spectroscopic tests are used (the substances are analysed on the basis of the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation emitted or absorbed). 
As part of the European BorderSens project, the University of Antwerp has coordinated the work of fifteen partners from eight EU countries to develop lighter, more accurate drug analysis instruments to help combat drug trafficking.  
Three new prototypes have just been presented by Belgian researchers for use by the police and customs authorities. The most effective, the Bordersens Array, automatically detects the best-known drugs and can be easily adapted to new substances that may come onto the market in the future. The second prototype, called the Single Sensor, is less complex and less expensive than the first, while still being able to detect the most commonly used narcotics. The final prototype, the MIP Sensor, is more specialised.  Its sensor is capable of detecting amphetamines even in low concentrations, as in a saliva sample.  
According to researchers at the University of Antwerp, these technologies should soon be licensed to companies for mass production, opening the way to commercial applications beyond the fight against drug trafficking.