TAU sensor can ID ‘date rape’ drug

New Worlds: Exciting new chemical bond, discovered by Technion researchers, may open door to new, special catalysts.

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August 28, 2011 03:52
3 minute read.
TAU sensor can ID ‘date rape’ drug

science lab 224. (photo credit: Courtesy)

A sensor that detects the presence of “date rape” drugs has been developed by chemistry department researchers at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Exact Sciences. Prof. Fernando Patolsky and Dr. Michael Ioffe of the School of Chemistry say the system, based on optical signal changes, is 100 percent accurate – with no “false-positives” – in detecting the presence of the most common date-rape drugs.

When a ray of light comes into contact with a beverage spiked with a date- rape drug, the system alerts the user.

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According to its developers, the system has been shown to always detect dangerous quantities of GHB (gammahydroxybutyric acid) – the most commonly used daterape drug, and of ketamine (ketamine hydrochloride), the second-most commonly used drug. Another one frequently used is Rohypnol.

Date-rape drugs (or club drugs) are drugs and medications with sedative and/or amnesiac effects that facilitate sexual exploitation. Most victims are teens and young adults at trance parties, clubs and bars. Drug-facilitated sexual assault is a growing problem the world over.

According to data published by the US Department of Justice, in 2007 some 200,000 women were raped in the US alone with the aid of date rape drugs. Only 16% of the victims reported the incidents. Experts believe that the current prevalence of date rape is 80% to 100% higher than the figure cited above. In addition to their use in sexual assault, these drugs can be employed to sedate victims of other kinds of criminal acts, such as robbery.

GHB is easily and inexpensively produced, dissolves readily in liquids and is colorless, tasteless and odorless; 2.5 grams can be deadly. Ketamine is used in pediatric and veterinary anesthesia and as a psychiatric medication. Rohypnol, the third most-common date rape drug, is a prescription sedative and hypnotic belonging to the Valium family, manufactured by F. Hoffmann-La Roche, and is particularly dangerous when combined with alcohol.

Until now, the police and health authorities have had no means of detecting date-rape drugs in real time. The researchers note that law enforcement agencies have been unable to contend with the phenomenon because no device has been developed that is sufficiently sensitive, let alone capable of being used in pubs. Moreover, these drugs become undetectable after several hours, making their use impossible to verify.

The next stage is to miniaturize the system for mass production. According to Patolsky, the goal is to produce a device no larger than the head of a pin.

EXCITING NEW CHEMICAL BOND MAY OPEN DOOR

Researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have discovered a “new kind” of chemical bond, thereby opening the door to the development of catalysts with special characteristics unknown until now. The Haifa scientists published their findings recently in the journals Nature Chemistry, Chemical and Engineering News and ChemNews Magazine.

“The field of catalysts is very broad,” said Dr. Mark Gendelman from the chemistry faculty.

“They are at the heart of the food, pharmaceutical, automotive and aviation industry. The world market for catalysts is estimated at $500 billion a year.” These substances influence our daily life in many aspects. With the help of catalysts, we prepare innovative materials with special characteristics, and we can’t manage without them. In fact, much of what serves us is done by catalysts.

They are made mostly from a core of metals, surrounded by organic material that holds it together. Between the two, there is a chemical bond, and the type of bond is very important, because it gives the metal special characteristics,” Gendelman continued.

The new bond is based on positively charged nitrogen. Until now, bonds were based on carbon and related substances.


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