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Nanotubes, nanoparticles and antibodies detect tiny amounts of fentanyl

Date: 22.5.2024 

A research team at the University of Pittsburgh led by Alexander Star, a chemistry professor in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, has developed a fentanyl sensor that is six orders of magnitude more sensitive than any electrochemical sensor for the drug reported in the past five years. The portable sensor can also tell the difference between fentanyl and other opioids.

Kredit: Aimee Obidzinski/PITT.Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid and one of the main drivers in overdose deaths in the United States, Star said. It's often mixed with other drugs, but because of its potency, it is often present in such small amounts that it can be hard to detect.

Star's sensor uses carbon nanotubes and gold nanoparticles to tell fentanyl apart from other opioids. The key to its groundbreaking sensitivity, however, is the incorporation of fentanyl antibodies. "We're using nature's invention, so to speak," Star said. "That's how we can reach these ultralow levels of detection."

The sensor is a modified version of a COVID-19 sensor developed by Star's research group in 2020. The COVID sensor is itself an adaptation of a THC breath test – similar to a Breathalyzer, but for marihuana – he developed in 2019.

Image source: Aimee Obidzinski/PITT.





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