Police and customs around the world spend over $250 million a year on drug detection equipment. Despite efforts to develop new technologies, more than half of this money goes to one of the oldest drug detection systems in the world - the sniffer dog.
BINDER is a breakthrough. Using a technique developed to detect traces of explosives, the project partners are ready to market a system that can identify concentrations of narcotics such as cocaine, ecstasy and heroin that weigh less than one trillionth of a gram.
"EUREKA has been very helpful, and it is very easy to collaborate with partners through this framework,"
Biosensor Applications AB
BINDER identifies drugs in the same way as the human body - with antibodies. As part of the body's immune defence, antibodies bind to and destroy harmful antigens. BINDER turns the natural affinity between antibody and antigen into a way of detecting drugs.
In the BINDER system, antibodies are placed on the surface of a tiny quartz crystal. When an antigen comes along in the form of a drug, the antibody moves off the crystal in order to bind with the narcotic. Sensors scan the crystal, and report any loss of antibody to the detection system. Because different drugs react with different antibodies, system operators can quickly work out which narcotic they are dealing with.
The potential market for the BINDER system is enormous, as governments fight the battle against drugs at seaports, land borders, airports and prisons. Current screening technologies, mainly X-ray based, can only detect bulk material and often give false alarms.
BINDER meets the need for a sensitive and accurate detection system. The finished detector consists of a handheld sampler, which can be used on surfaces including clothes and paper. Analysis takes less than two minutes, and the whole system weighs less than 20 kilograms.
Per Mansson, Head of Chemistry at Biosensor Applications AB (BAAB) says: "Earlier this year, US customs invited us to test the equipment on containers in Mexico which had been planted with different packages of cocaine. We found it all."
While BAAB developed the technique, its BINDER partner, chemistry company PR Eurochem, supplied active ingredients for the detection kit. Through the EUREKA project, Eurochem has found a profitable new business niche.
"We had no experience with narcotics before BINDER. The long process of buying drugs like morphine and amphetamines legally for research means that there are few people working in this area," says Rabih Jaouhari of Eurochem. "Now we are starting to work for forensic labs around Europe."