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Saliva test to detect GHB and alcohol poisonings

Scientists working at Loughborough University and the University of Cordoba, Spain, have developed a new method for the rapid diagnosis of poisoning in apparently drunk patients.

The saliva-based test offers the potential to screen for poisons commonly associated with the cheap or imitation manufacture of alcohol, and γ-hydroxybutyric acid, the so-called ‘date rape’ drug GHB.

The results are published today (Friday 8th January) in the Journal of Breath Research.

“Many people attending accident and emergency departments have some kind of alcohol-related issue, particularly at the weekends,” explains Paul Thomas, Professor of Analytical Science at Loughborough University’s Department of Chemistry, and co-author of the paper. “We’re aiming to develop a test that is as simple as taking temperature with a thermometer that detects when patients are more than just drunk.”

The researchers developed a test which detects the presence of methanol, ethanol, ethylene glycol, propan 1,3 glycol and γ-hydroxybutyric acid.

These chemicals were added to ‘fresh’ saliva collected from three healthy volunteers.

“It was particularly challenging stabilising concentrations low enough to be realistic simulations of what you’d expect to find clinically,” adds Professor Thomas. “But we’ve managed to make some sensitive measurements - which is quite pleasing as saliva is a particularly complicated material to work with due to the presence of bacteria and their metabolites from the mouth, and ammonia at high enough levels to change the chemistry of the measurement system unless carefully managed.”

Once the chemicals were added to the fresh saliva the researchers used an oral sampler to extract methanol, ethanol, ethylene glycol, 1,3-propandiol and γ-hydroxybutyric acid. The compounds were detected using gas chromatography-differential mobility spectrometry.

“We were surprised at the ease at which we could detect γ-hydroxybutyric acid,” continues Professor Thomas. “It’s both a polar and acidic molecule – but it turned out to be easy to detect, even at the low concentrations we were studying.”

The researchers are now working on running trials of their test in a clinical setting, on patients in emergency departments.

“We’re hoping to demonstrate that this test will be simple, effective and useful for clinicians to use,” concludes Professor Thomas. “I think this is a very exciting area of research and in the next few years there will be a host of simple tests on breath, skin and saliva that will aid with diagnosis in hospitals.”

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: PR 16/01

The published version of the paper “A rapid and non-invasive method to determine toxic levels of alcohols and γ-hydroxylbutyric acid in saliva samples by gas chromatography-differential mobility spectrometry” (L Criado-García et alJ. Breath Res.1 (2016) 017101) is available at http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1752-7163/10/1/017101.

About Loughborough University

Loughborough University is equipped with a live in-house broadcast unit via the Globelynx network. To arrange an interview with one of our experts  please contact the press office on 01509 223491. Bookings can be made online via www.globelynx.com

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, putting it among the best universities in the world, and was named University of the Year in the What Uni Student Choice Awards 2015.Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. It was 2nd in the 2015 THE Student Experience Survey and was named Sports University of the Year 2013-14 by The Times and Sunday Times. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

In September 2015 the University opened an additional academic campus in London’s new innovation quarter. Loughborough University London, based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities.

About the Journal of Breath Research

The Journal of Breath Research is dedicated to all aspects of breath science, with the major focus on analysis of exhaled breath in physiology and medicine, and the diagnosis and treatment of breath odours.

About IOP Publishing

IOP Publishing provides publications through which leading-edge scientific research is distributed worldwide.

IOP Publishing is central to the Institute of Physics, a not-for-profit society. Any financial surplus earned by IOP Publishing goes to support science through the activities of the Institute.

Go to ioppublishing.org or follow us @IOPPublishing.

About the Institute of Physics

The Institute of Physics is a charitable organisation with a worldwide membership of more than 50,000, working together to advance physics education, research and application.

 

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