NUI Galway Research Produces Intelligent Software for Drugs Detection

Thursday, 28 September 2006

28 September 2006: NUI Galway today (Thursday) showcased Hazard IQ, a suite of software products for accurate, rapid identification and quantification of materials, including illegal narcotics, explosives and medicines. The technology can be used in many different practical applications such as airport security screening, poison testing at accident and emergency departments, and on-the-spot forensics analysis. The intelligent software has been developed at NUI Galway by Dr. Michael Madden, Department of Information Technology, and Dr. Alan Ryder, Department of Chemistry and the National Centre for Biomedical Engineering Science.

Hazard IQ was presented at the Enterprise Ireland Informatics Technology Showcase in Dublin, an event designed to connect Ireland's finest technology researchers with entrepreneurs, industrialists and companies who can participate in the commercialisation process for mutual commercial gain.

Michael explained the technology, "If, for example, suspicious materials are discovered at an airport, they can be analysed where they are found and Hazard-IQ can identify the substance in a matter of seconds. This is much faster than dispatching samples to a central laboratory for standard testing, which can take several days. Likewise, in a hospital environment, the identification of hazardous materials ingested by patients can be made rapidly, speeding up diagnosis, and leading to faster treatment times."

Hazard-IQ automatically learns to identify hazardous and illicit substances, by examining a wide variety of samples that have been prepared in a lab. Hazard-IQ has been 'trained' to recognise different categories of drugs, poisons, explosive and corrosive materials, and estimate their concentrations accurately. It can then recognize new samples within milliseconds.

"The basis of the project is about using the Raman spectra of drugs as molecular fingerprints", explained Alan. "These molecular fingerprints are unique to different drugs and materials and so can be used for unambiguous identification. Portable Raman detection equipment is smaller than a shoebox and can test bulk samples of a variety of materials, including drugs, explosives and hazardous industrial chemicals."

Hazard IQ identifies the components of mixtures and estimates their concentrations, by combining Raman Spectroscopy – which is a laser-based method for 'chemical fingerprinting' of materials – with Machine Learning, which is a family of analysis techniques that automatically improve with experience.

Drs. Madden and Ryder developed the novel technologies and software with support from Enterprise Ireland as part of the Commercialisation Fund for Technology Development.

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