Solving a hairy forensic problem

29-Mar-2019

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

For decades, forensic scientists have tested strands of hair to reveal drug use or poisoning. But in recent years, reports have questioned the technique -- in particular, its ability to distinguish between the intake of a substance and external contamination of the hair. Now, researchers have reported a new method that appears to do just that in the ACS journal Analytical Chemistry.

When a person ingests a drug or medication, the substance travels through the bloodstream to the roots of their hair, where it becomes incorporated. Because hair grows at a rate of about 0.4 inches per month, researchers can estimate when a drug was taken by analyzing different segments of a strand cut horizontally from root to tip. However, with current methods, it can be difficult to tell whether a person actually ingested a substance or simply handled the drug and transferred it to their hair. Thomas Kraemer, Markus Baumgartner and colleagues wanted to develop a method that could distinguish between contamination and actual incorporation of drugs from the circulatory system.

The researchers analyzed single hairs from volunteers who had taken the sleeping medication zolpidem many times or only once. They found that by splitting the hair lengthwise to expose the entire inner compartment, they greatly increased the sensitivity of zolpidem detection by mass spectrometry compared to current approaches, allowing them to distinguish between ingestion and contamination. The team then developed and assessed a washing protocol that removed most of the contaminating zolpidem from hairs that were soaked in the drug or contaminated with sweat or body oils. Importantly, the washing method preserved drug that was tightly bound inside the hair, the majority of which had been deposited by the circulatory system upon ingestion.

American Chemical Society (ACS)

Recommend news PDF version / Print

Share on

Facts, background information, dossiers
More about American Chemical Society
  • News

    Researchers grow cells in 'paper organs'

    Long before scientists test new medicines in animals or people, they study the effects of the substances on cells growing in Petri dishes. However, a 2D layer of cells is a poor substitute for the much more complex 3D structure of tissues in organs. Now, researchers reporting in the ACS jou ... more

    Biosensor 'bandage' collects and analyzes sweat

    Like other biofluids, sweat contains a wealth of information about what's going on inside the body. However, collecting the fluid for analysis, usually by dripping or absorbing it from the skin's surface, can be time-consuming and messy. Now, researchers have developed a bandage-like biosen ... more

    Sniffing out Parkinson's disease

    Parkinson's disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that leads to progressive brain cell death and extensive loss of motor function. Despite much research being conducted on this disease, there are no definitive diagnostic tests currently available. Now, researchers report the identificatio ... more

  • Videos

    The chemicals we leave behind

    The products we use every day leave behind chemical footprints. Learn how and why researchers are now studying those trails. Mass spectrometry is helping researchers learn more about our interactions with the everyday chemicals we use, such as DEET, caffeine, even medications. In this episo ... more

Your browser is not current. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 does not support some functions on Chemie.DE