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Exploring Alternative Matrices/Technology for the detection and identification of small molecules

This research is collectively concerned with the detection and identification of small molecules using different matrices and technology. The work involves a variety of projects at the interface of science and policy in several different areas, including drug detection in different settings and populations.

  1. Using latent fingerprints for drug screening/LC) – Misused drugs are typically detected by measurement of the analytes within urine, blood or oral fluid. In these biological fluids drugs typically separated from the matrix using gas or liquid chromatography and detected using mass spectrometry, GC–MS or LC–MS, respectively. This research investigates the premise that drug and drug metabolites can be detected in the sweat deposited in a latent fingerprint using antibody-nanoparticle conjugates. This research is investigating the detection and confirmation of clubbing drugs such as ecstasy (MDMA) and alcohol in latent fingerprints.
  2. The use of alternative matrices for evidential tests in drug-driving - It is standard practice in Forensic Science for the methodology employed for the screening test to be qualitatively different from the confirmation test. In the UK drug-driving context, a Point of Contact Test (POCT) for an oral fluid (OF) screening device is used as the initial test and whole blood for the confirmatory (evidential) test. The confirmatory test is carried out in the laboratory using liquid or gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (LC or GC-MS). It is a requirement of law that confirmatory (evidential) tests are undertaken. It is widely accepted that blood and, to a lesser degree, oral fluid are likely to give the most accurate measurement of drugs currently active in the body. A review of the scientific literature was undertaken to explore alternative matrices for evidential testing. The review noted that oral fluid collected at the roadside for confirmatory purposes would be particularly advantageous in terms of reducing the time lag between the driving incident and evidential testing for illicit drugs such as THC, cocaine and heroin that are known to decline rapidly in blood after use.
  3. Synthetic oral fluid as an alternative to human saliva for type approval testing. We characterised the physical properties of AOF to determine its suitability as a matrix for quality assurance purposes. The evaluation of pH, specific gravity (SG), conductivity (mS cm−1), freezing point depression (°C), light-scattering and kinematic viscosity (mm2 s−1) showed AOF to be a stable, reliable matrix. Synthetic OF was prepared using components (mucin, surfactants and so on) obtained from different suppliers and a comparison was performed. Our results suggest that AOF is a feasible matrix for the preparation of quality assurance samples for confirmatory or drug screening programmes.
  4. Detection small molecules using novel technology. This project, funded by the Partnership for Clean Competition, aims to develop a rapid screening protocol for detecting the full range of endogenous and exogenous androgens that are currently banned by WADA. This will be achieved through the application of Molecularly Imprinted Polymers (MIPs) to develop a specialized extraction protocol followed by comprehensive Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GCxGC-ToFMS) for multiple compound analysis.

Professor David Cowan OBE

Emeritus Professor

Atholl Johnston


Mike Scott Ham


Robert W Forrest


Dr Stephen Morley

Consultant Chemical Pathologist and Forensic Toxicologist

Dr Ivana Gavrilovic

Research Associate

Dr Paul Royall

 Senior Lecturer

Dr Caroline Pollard


Dr Duncan Harding


Dr Nicholas Turner


Dr Geraint Morgan


Dr Thomas Bassindale

Principal Lecturer

Stephanie Farrant

Senior Analyst-GC-MS

Cheyanne Pierre

GC-MS Analyst

Dr Lewis Couchman

Visiting Lecturer

Smita Ramma

PhD Student



To improve the detection and identification of small molecules using different matrices and technology.


Analytical method development

Project status: Ongoing

Principal Investigator


Funding Body: Intelligent Fingerprinting

Amount: £368,566

Period: January 2014 - December 2024