Making an impact with voltammetric illicit drug sensors – Bridging the gap between fundamental lab research and on-site application

2023-11-21 16:00
Universiteit Antwerpen, Stadscampus, Klooster van de Grauwzusters, Gebouw S, Promotiezaal - Lange Sint-Annastraat 7, 2000 Antwerpen

Promovendus/a: Robin Van Echelpoel

Promotor(en): Karolien De Wael

Illicit drugs are harmful substances, posing a threat to the health and safety of society. Each year, over half a million people die because of drug overdoses. The violence associated with the illicit drug trade disrupts communities across the globe, there is no region in the inhabited world that is spared from it. Policies, such as supply reduction and harm reduction, are in place to combat the illicit drug problem. Science can play a substantial role in this fight, by providing tools that enable these policies to be successfully enforced. One example are on-site detection tools, i.e. sensors that allow the on-site identification of an illicit drug in a sample of interest. Several technologies, such as color tests and portable spectroscopic techniques, are currently employed for this goal. Although these are valuable techniques, there is an opportunity for voltammetry, an electrochemical technique, to make an impactful addition to this repertoire of on-site detection tools. ​

Despite its attractive features (low-cost, portable, short analysis time, indifference to color,...), voltammetric illicit drug sensor have failed to make an impact in real scenarios. The work outlined in this PhD thesis aims to change this by bringing the technology from the lab to the field. Strategic choices, fueled by feedback from end-users, were made to further develop those specific aspects of the technology that previously haltered the technology to fulfill its potential. A detection algorithm was introduced that converts the voltammetric output into a clear-cut interpretation thereof, opening up the technology to end-users without prior knowledge of the technology. A sensor that allows qualitative and quantitative detection of the psychoactive drug MDMA was introduced, and importantly, validated on a large set of 212 confiscated samples. A state-of-the-art mobile application and adequate sampling methodology were developed, alongside other, often more practical studies and product developments, to evolve the technology into a product that truly creates value for end-users. Important steps towards multidrug detection were made with a festival sensor and a flowchart based on visual appearance that ties together a variety of voltammetric single sensors into a single multidrug sensing approach. Last but not least, multiple valorization aspects were researched, including a market study and an analysis to determine the optimal commercialization strategy. Overall, this PhD thesis has facilitated the transition of the voltammetric illicit drug sensing technology from lab to on-site application.

Alle datums

  • 2023-11-21 16:00

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