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Technology Innovative technology for rapid detection of drug abuse Dr Yao Zhongping

Dr Yao Zhongping


PolyU-developed method simplifies and accelerates drug analysis by simply using a toothpick to collect urine or oral fluid samples.

Analysis plays a pivotal role in controlling drug abuse. Existing drug abuse analysis is performed in two steps: preliminary screening to handle massive samples and confirmatory analysis to ensure the reliability of analytical results. However, preliminary screening for illicit drug residues in body fluids may generate false positive and false negative results, and the confirmatory techniques currently used require laborious and time-consuming sample preparation and pre-treatment procedures.

With these limitations in mind, Dr Yao Zhongping at the Department of Applied Biology and Chemical Technology developed "Wooden-tip electrospray ionization mass spectrometry" to reliably detect and quantify abused drugs in urine and oral fluids within minutes. In addition, his research team optimized various experimental conditions to establish an experimental protocol for the analysis of abused drugs.

  • Detection of drug abuse with oral fluid sample_1
  • Detection of drug abuse with oral fluid sample_2
  • Detection of drug abuse with oral fluid sample_3
  • Detection of drug abuse with oral fluid sample_4

Detection of drug abuse with
oral fluid sample

The new method simply uses a wooden tip (such as a toothpick) to collect the sample. Upon applying a high voltage to the tip, spray ionization is induced and the ion signals of analytes are detected. With high sensitivity in detecting ketamine, norketamine, methyl amphetamine and MDMA in urine and oral fluids, as well as cocaine in oral fluids, the technology requires no chromatographic separation and only a small sample to complete a biological analysis.

Simpler, faster and more reliable than existing methods, this new technology greatly reduces the cost, procedures and manpower involved in drug analysis. It has taken a big step towards resolving the uncertainty generated by false positive and false negative results.

The research team is now endeavouring to develop even more sensitive and precise technology to enhance the efficiency and reliability of such testing. In the future, they will focus on tests for other drugs, including THC and heroin. Even more importantly, they will develop portable devices to facilitate rapid on-site drug analysis.