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Fingerprint drugs test could soon be available in A&E

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Funding has been announced to develop drug tests that will be able to detect the substances a patient has taken through their fingerprints in accident and emergency departments.

A £425,000 grant, announced by minister for science and universities David Willets, has been given to Intelligent Fingerprinting Ltd - a firm which originally started at the University of East Anglia.

This cash, which is part of £39m of healthcare funding from the Biomedical Catalyst, will be spent on making advances in how A&E and coroners’ staff detect drugs.

The new technology uses a hand-held portable machine which tests sweat from a fingerprint to find traces of drugs and work out what substances a person has taken. The process takes just 10 minutes and it is hoped it could help hospital staff to make quick, potentially life-saving decisions on the best treatment for patients.

Out of the £425,000 awarded to Intelligent Fingerprinting, £135,000 will pay for a feasibility study, carried out in partnership with the University of Leicester. This research will look into whether it would be appropriate for the test to be used on people who are admitted to hospital in an emergency.

The rest of the cash will be spent on developing the actual device used for the test.

If the test is adopted by hospitals, it is expected to save money as it will reduce the need for other forms of drugs screening.

Intelligent Fingerprinting’s business development manager Dr Paul Yates said many of the patients brought to A&E had drugs in their system which medical staff may be unaware of.

He said: “Without this knowledge there is a risk that medical staff will administer treatment which could be harmful, or even fatal. This situation is made worse if the patient is confused or unable to speak, or elderly and suffering with a condition that affects memory.”

He added that doctors would be more likely to make the right decision on how to treat a person if they could reliably and quickly ascertain their recent drugs history

The Biomedical Catalyst is a programme, run by the Medical Research Council and the Technology Strategy Board, which funds projects involving biology, microbiology and biochemistry.

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