A rapid, non-invasive tool for the analysis of drugs in body fluids

It has been shown that drugs (whether drugs of abuse, required anti-psychotic medication or prescription pharmaceuticals) can be detected within body fluids (blood, sweat, saliva).  This project aims to develop a rapid, forensically robust and non-invasive analytical tool to measure the presence and amount of drugs in the body.

Start date

1 October 2019


3 years

Application deadline

Funding source

Funded by LGC and the University of Surrey

Funding information

Stipend of approximately £15,000 per annum for the full duration (3 years) of the PhD.


This project, conducted in conjunction with LGC, aims to develop a novel robust procedure for the analysis of drugs of abuse in body fluids.  Currently, in cases of suspected drug impairment, the non-invasive analysis of drugs from body fluids has been widely demonstrated.[1],[2],[3],[4]  A range of presumptive tests (mainly based on anti-body detection) are available which can provide an indicative analysis in either saliva or urine for a number of materials of interest.[4],[5]  Presumptive tests are difficult use in a forensic context to obtain results which meet the required evidential standard.  Newly introduced ‘drugalysers’ are also capable of providing indicative results but are limited to a few analytes and require an additional or confirmatory analysis.

Confirmatory analysis is usually performed using GC-MS or LC-MS. [6],[7],[9],[8]  Typically this uses blood sampling at a police station which requires a doctor or medical examiner to attend which is both costly and introduces delays which can cause uncertainty in assigning impairment.  Recent advances have considered the use of oral fluid for LC-MS & MS/MS analysis however this is still not widely adopted and requires samples to be sent for off-site analysis providing no immediate feedback for the police or suspect. Sample analysis typically takes 20-30 minutes (more if complex sample clean-up is required)[9] which adds to the delays in turnaround and the cost of the technique.

Novel mass spectrometry technologies provide the opportunity to analyse samples in complex matrix with relatively simple sample preparation and paired with smaller footprint and cheaper instrumentation could provide immediate robust results.  Although relatively few of the ambient ionisation techniques have been commercialised, studies showing how these techniques can be used in a regulated environment are emerging.[10]

This project will therefore aim to develop a robust process for the screening and confirmation of drugs of abuse in body fluids. 

  • The scope will include blood, dried blood, urine and saliva and a wide panel of drugs covering all the main classes of material included in toxicity screening.  This could also include novel psychoactive substances and legal highs.[11] 
  • The target will be to analyse these using any suitable method capable of achieving the necessary selectivity, specificity and sensitivity (based on the UK home office and EU limits). 
  • The project will consider a wide analytical capability however deployable mass spectrometry with ambient ionisation is currently identified as the technology most likely to meet the requirements.
  • Simple work-up steps for purification and pre-concentration will be considered if they can be adapted for simple operation in a deployed environment and don’t need a laboratory environment.[10]
  • The parallel consideration of the standards needed to implement the process in a forensic context will be included as part of the project however this will be highly dependent on the chosen analytical process.  Any standards proposed will need to include a consideration of the longevity and robustness. [12]

The project will include up to 30% of time spent at LGC (Teddington) providing access to specialist facilities.

    1. Drummer OH, ‘Drug testing in Oral Fluid’, Clin. Biochem. Rev. 27, (2006), 147.
    2. Verstraete AG, ‘Oral fluid testing for driving under the influence of drugs: history, recent progress and remaining challenges’, For. Sci. Int. 150, (2005), 143.
    3. Lund HME et al, ‘Drugs of abuse in oral fluid collected by two different sample kits – stability testing and validation using ultra performance tandem mass spectrometry analysis’, J. Chrom. B, 879 (2011), 3367.
    4. Cooper et al., ‘Evaluation of the Cozart RapiScan drug test system for opiates and cocaine in oral fluid’, For. Sci. Int. 150, (2005), 239.
    5. https://www.narcocheck.com/en/saliva-drug-tests/multi-drugs-saliva-test-5in1.html (accessed 08/04/2019).
    6. Maurer HH, ‘Advances in analytical toxicology: the current role of liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry in drug quantification in blood and oral fluid’, Anal Bioanal. Chem., 381, (2005), 110.
    7. Lee Y-W et al, ‘Simultaneous Screening of 177 Drugs of Abuse in Urine Using Ultra-performance Liquid Chromatography with Tandem Mass Spectrometry in Drug-intoxicated Patients’, Clinical Psychopharmacology And Neuroscience, 11, (2013), 158
    8. Liu HC et al, ‘Direct Injection LC-MS-MS Analysis of Opiates, Methamphetamine, Buprenorphine, Methadone and Their Metabolites in Oral Fluid from Substitution Therapy Patients’, J. Anal. Tox. 39, (2015), 472.
    9. Lee J et al, ‘Urine Multi-drug Screening with GC-MS or LC-MS-MS Using SALLE-hybrid PPT/SPE’, J. Anal. Tox. 42, (2018), 617.
    10. Vasiljevic T et al., ‘Single-use poly(etheretherketone) solid-phase microextrction-transmission mode devices for rapid screening and quantification of drugs of abuse in oral fluid and urine via direct analysis in real time mass spectrometry’, Anal. Chem. 90, (2018), 952.
    11. Richeval C et al, ‘New psychoactive substances in oral fluid of French and Belgian drivers in 2016’, International journal of drug policy, 57, (2018), 1
    12. Drummer OH, ‘Review: Pharmacokinetics of illicit drugs in oral fluid’, For. Sci. Int., 150, (2005), 133.

    Eligibility criteria

    This is for applicants from the UK or EU only.

    Applicants must have:

    • A First Class or Upper Second Class (2:1) Degree in Chemistry.

    The ideal candidate will have:

    • A passion for analytical chemistry and possess excellent written and oral communication skills
    • Experience in the use of mass spectrometry and specifically LC-MS

    If English is not your first language, you will be required to have an IELTS Academic of 6.5 or above (or equivalent), with no sub-test score below 6.

    How to apply

    Applications can be made through the Chemistry PhD course page.

    Please state the project title and supervisor clearly on all applications and provide two academic reference letters.

    For any enquiries, please contact Dr Patrick Sears.

    Chemistry PhD

    Application deadline

    Contact details

    Patrick Sears
    11 AZ 01
    Telephone: +44 (0)1483 689580
    E-mail: p.sears@surrey.ac.uk


    Sears Group


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