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UW researchers develop new technique to detect fentanyl in blood samples

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University of Waterloo researchers have developed a new blood testing method that can detect potent opioids faster than traditional techniques.

Researchers believe the blood analyzing method can one day save lives.

“We want to know if this person had or did not have fentanyl or any other opioid that we can do in a very fast amount of time,” said co-author of the study, Emir Nazdrajić.

Researchers believe it's twice as fast as other techniques and they can test dozens of samples at once.

“We can do 96 samples at the same time from one station and we can analyze all of them two minutes sequentially for each,” Nazdrajić said.

Using their method, researchers place blood on a well-plate with a buffer. It is then put in a machine before a solid phase micro-extraction probe is used to enhance the drug of interest.

“We will take these fibres quickly, rinse them in the water just to remove any non-specific attachments or outlets from the blood and introduce them to our instrument for analysis,” Nazdrajić said.

It is like a high-capacity sensor that can give doctors quicker insight.

Emir Nazdrajić uses the machine that analyzes the samples. (CTV News/Chris Thomson)

“Immediate intervention of the physician requires information and this device provides the required information for the physician to take an action,” said Dr. Janusz Pawliszyn, corresponding author of the study and a professor in the department of chemistry.

According to the Government of Canada’s website, more than 40,000 people died in the country from opioid toxicity in the first six months of 2023. More than 80 per cent of those involved fentanyl.

The goal with this new method is to not stop at opioids – but expand it further, to be used to detect other drugs and certain types of diseases.

“We are looking at anti-cancer drugs as well as applications related to the organ transplant to make sure the organ performs correctly,” said Pawliszyn.

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