Developing a rapid test for the designer drug, mephedrone

Published: 22 Oct 2014

Author: Katy Kellett
Developing a rapid test for the designer drug, mephedrone

Kathryn Kellett, a research assistant from Hatfield in Hertfordshire, has recently returned from a three-month Churchill Fellowship to the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) in the USA. She was researching the development of a rapid chemical test (sensor) for the designer drug mephedrone, also known as meow meow, which was banned in the UK in 2011.

Designer drugs are compounds that are chemically altered from Federal controlled substances to sidestep regulations, yet still have potent effects that rival banned substances such as amphetamines and cocaine.

In recent years (2009-2013) a significant rise in the abuse of new psychoactive substances, such as the synthetic cathinone mephedrone, has been reported in Western Europe, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

In the UK, figures from the National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths report that 68 people have died from mephedrone. There is currently a lack in rapid drug tests available for designer drugs such as this. 

The sensor concept was designed prior to the Fellowship at the University of Hertfordshire using computational methods, which had not been previously utilised for the design of such drug sensors.

Kathryn spent time in the state of the art chemistry laboratory of Professor Karl Wallace, who is a leading expert in chemical sensing, at the University of Southern Mississippi. While in Mississippi, she learned specialist methods to make large sensory molecules.

Kathryn has now returned to the UK where she has begun testing the sensory molecule’s ability to sense mephedrone using a range of techniques at the University of Hertfordshire, and is planning to publish these findings for the scientific community soon.

Kathryn says, “I hope to pass on all that I have learnt to fellow scientists, and continue with the work that was initiated during my travels”. 

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