Assistant Professor Nima Tabatabaei from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Lassonde School of Engineering, York University, and his team of researchers at the Hybrid Biomedical Optics (HBO) laboratory have developed and tested a patent-pending technology for fast, on-site detection and quantification of THC – the psychoactive substance of cannabis – in saliva.
The technology uses thermal signatures of gold nanoparticles attached to THC molecules. The advancement in THC detection technology comes at an opportune time. The recent legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada has created a pressing need for rapid and sensitive roadside screening to mitigate driving under the influence.
Using current technologies, detecting THC at legally required limits is time consuming and invasive as it requires analysis of blood samples in certified laboratories. Tabatabaei’s technology, on the other hand, aims to provide immediate, on-site results to better detect driving under the influence and keeping roads safer.
The most accurate commercially available roadside solution, which was recently approved by RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) for use in Canada for detection of impaired driving, is rated for reliable detection of THC concentrations 25ng/ml or greater in saliva (or 5ng/ml and larger with limited reliably), says Tabatabaei. This does not meet the requirement of new Canadian regulations on drugged driving, Bill C-46 (2ng/ml in blood).
“In a lab environment, our thermo-photonic technology has a demonstrated detection limit of 1ng/ml,” said Tabatabaei. “Our next target is to reduce the size and cost of the technology by employing low-cost cellphone attachment infrared cameras and optimizing system parameters. We aim to achieve a THC detection threshold of better than 2ng/ml in oral fluids as part of a commercially viable and portable device.”
Initially, the team was able to work on the prototype’s development and testing thanks to a $50,000 grant from York University’s Vision: Science to Applications (VISTA) program. Due to the demonstrated viability of their innovation in lab environment, and support from Innovation York, the team secured additional funding by way of a $125,000 research grant from Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Idea to Innovation Program. This grant will help the team translate this technology from benchtop to roadside.