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IUPUI chemist working to improve drug and poison screening in forensics

March 31, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS -- On "CSI," "NCIS" and other popular television shows, mass spectrometers rapidly analyze biological samples and spit out definitive results of complex analyses. But in real life, mass spectrometry findings are less straightforward and slower paced.

Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis analytical chemist Nicholas E. Manicke has received a $273,826 award from the U.S. Department of Justice's National Institute of Justice to improve the speed and accuracy of mass spectrometry for detecting drugs and poisons in blood samples.

"Current technology does not meet the demand for rapid, effective and simple drug screening methodologies for forensic toxicology applications," said Manicke, assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology and a faculty member of the School of Science's Forensic and Investigative Sciences Program at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

With the NIJ award, Manicke will proceed with his work to simultaneously advance the quality and throughput rate of mass spectrometry analysis of biosamples, specifically blood samples, to determine cause of death. The participation of an IUPUI graduate student in the project is supported by the grant, and several undergraduates will also be involved.

"Hundreds of common drugs could cause death. Current broad screening and detection methods catch wide swaths but are not ideal," said Manicke. "Unfortunately, the large number of false positives that arise from current screening methods increase the burden for laboratories to do confirmatory tests. Also, their poor sensitivity can mean that drugs at low concentrations may not be detected at all during the initial screen."

"AIT Laboratories, an Indianapolis-based company specializing in toxicological analyses, will help in the testing of this new approach to drug screening," Manicke said. "AIT Labs will provide real forensic specimens for testing, and the results we obtain will be validated against their standard confirmatory tests."

Before joining the IUPUI faculty in 2013, Manicke and colleagues at Purdue University, where he completed graduate studies and served as a postdoctoral research associate, developed paper spray. A mass spectrometry ionization method, paper spray allows for quantitative and qualitative analysis from complex samples without prior sample purification.

In a study published in June 2014 in the American Chemical Society's peer-reviewed journal Analytical Chemistry, Manicke and colleagues reported on the successful use of paper spray to detect very low concentrations of eight common drugs of abuse in blood samples. This work demonstrated the value of paper spray for rapid investigation of biological samples, allowing for the direct analysis of complex samples without the laborious sample preparation process normally associated with mass spectrometry.

Manicke said that because of its sensitivity and specificity, the paper spray mass spectrometry method has potential use in such diverse fields as biomedical research and clinical testing, homeland security, drug screening and food safety, in addition to forensic science.

"The development of paper spray mass spectrometry, which requires no sample preparation, has been driven primarily by the need for faster and simpler procedures for the analysis of drugs and pharmaceuticals directly from whole blood," he said. "With this support from the National Institute of Justice we hope to develop paper spray mass spectrometry into an effective drug screening tool for applications in forensic toxicology, particularly analysis of postmortem blood samples."
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The School of Science at IUPUI is committed to excellence in teaching, research and service in the biological, physical, behavioral and mathematical sciences. The school is dedicated to being a leading resource for interdisciplinary research and science education in support of Indiana's effort to expand and diversify its economy.

Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis School of Science

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