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Scientists develop low-cost chemical sensing chip to detect cocaine within minutes
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Scientists develop low-cost chemical sensing chip to detect cocaine within minutes

A team of scientists has developed a new chip that can detect cocaine within minutes, just like a breathalyzer identifies alcohol. The chip is a low-cost invention that could be integrated into a handheld device for detecting cocaine in breath, blood, urine or spit samples. The team is now hoping to use the technology to detect the presence of other drugs, including marijuana. The new technology can help law enforcement officers monitor drug use and control dangerous driving.

The new chip can be compared to a layered cake with several horizontal layers of materials one upon the other. The chip works by trapping light at the edges of gold and silver nanoparticles. When chemical or biological molecules fall on the surface of the chip, some of the trapped light interacts with them and gets scattered into the light of new energies. The effect produced helps in recognizing patterns, thereby disclosing information about the compounds (or drugs) present in those particles, says the study, published recently in the journal Small Methods.

Given the unique light-scattering signatures present in different chemicals, the technology can be used to quickly identify a wide range of drugs. Though the sensing method used in the device, surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS), is not new, what sets the device apart is its cost-effective way of production. “The chips used for SERS are typically fabricated using expensive methods, such as lithography, which creates specific patterns on a metal substrate. We created our chip by depositing various thin layers of materials on a glass substrate, which is cost-effective and suitable for industrial-scale production,” said co-author Nan Zhang from University at Buffalo.

Effective and low-cost design

According to the researchers, what makes the chip unconventional is the use of low-cost raw materials and fabrication technique. Moreover, the high-performance design makes it possible to integrate it into a portable device. The gold and silver nanoparticles used in the device also gives it a longer shelf life, with the device performing well even after a year in storage.

Looking at the effectiveness of the chip, the researchers now plan to install it in a simple, portable testing device that would help testers run the samples through a purification process. It, in turn, would help extract specific molecules (cocaine or other drugs) present, which would then be transferred to the chip for detection and identification.

Seeking help for cocaine addiction

Used for its euphoria-generating effects, cocaine abuse can have negative consequences on the user’s physical and mental health and even lead to long-term changes in the brain’s reward system. Given the drug’s addictive nature accompanied by uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, it is recommended to seek cocaine abuse help at certified rehab centers. Though men and women both are susceptible to drug abuse, a research indicates that the latter might be more prone to getting addicted to cocaine as well as experience greater difficulties in abstaining from the drug.

Sovereign Health, a leading behavioral and addiction treatment center in the U.S., we understand that compared to men, women respond differently to addictive substances. As no one treatment suits all, we offer our women patients personalized, evidence-based clinical therapies to help them get free of their addiction. Basis a patient’s physical and psychological evaluation, cocaine addiction treatment for women at our facilities involves medication and behavioral therapy. For more information about our world-class cocaine addiction rehab for women, call us at our 24/7 helpline or chat online with our counselor.

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