Year/Course: 2009-2010, Lent 2010

Contacts: Professor David Russell, Department of Chemistry, University of East Anglia, & Jerry Walker, Intelligent Fingerprinting Ltd.
Mentor: Dr. Julian White

A team of researchers at the University of East Anglia have developed a ground-breaking new technique which can use the sweat in fingerprints to identify a number of illegal drugs, prescription drugs and drug metabolites. Using antibodies and simple imaging techniques allows a range of compounds to be detected quickly and easily. The antibody binds to the substance present in the fingerprint, and allows it to be optically imaged.

The method has already been shown to detect cotinine (a metabolite of nicotine) and three different narcotic drugs, and a spin-out company has been formed. The researchers now need to know where to focus their attention to ensure they are addressing areas of real commercial need as they extend the method to detect a wider range of substances. Applications range from detecting drugs from fingerprints found at crime scenes, to screening machinery operators and prison inmates for drugs. It might also be possible to use the technique for non-invasive testing for prescription drugs to ensure that patients are taking them regularly, potentially important for elderly patients who may forget to take their medication.

The i-Team will be tasked with identifying the possible uses for this technique, and recommending which have the greatest commercial potential.