Project Details


The opioid epidemic is one of the largest public health crises affecting the western world today. Opioids are a group of strong painkillers, used routinely in a healthcare setting to manage moderate to severe pain, for example post-operatively. The potency, wide-availability, and addiction stemming from medicinal use are among factors that have led to the explosive rise in the misuse of these drugs. The non-prescription abuse of opioids is responsible for approximately 118 thousand drug-related deaths per annum. Furthermore, the number of opioid-related deaths has more than doubled over ten years in the US (2007-2017. The early detection of opioids in a patient and rapid intervention can prevent death from opioid overdose. However, the identification of overdose may be based on symptoms, rather than diagnostic tools. The presence of opioids in a patient’s system may be determined by an immunoassay, which can assist in the identification of overdose and the administration of an antidote (e.g. Naloxone). Opioid levels may also be monitored by immunoassay for therapeutic monitoring of medicines adherence or for research purposes.

Immunoassays are bioanalytical tests based on the quantification of a molecule of interest, an “analyte”, using an antibody. The specificity of this binding makes the immunoassay an essential procedure in the detection of an analyte within complex biological milieu, such as blood or urine. Immunoassays are routinely used in healthcare and research settings to monitor the presence of therapeutic agents or to detect markers associated with disease. As such, these assays have enabled ground-breaking discoveries in scientific research and made vast improvements in the healthcare of the population, with monoclonal antibody therapy a particularly notable example. However, these advances come with a considerable cost to animal life. The production of antibodies is routinely conducted in animals, including rabbits, sheep, horses, goats, and rodents. In brief, antibody production is conducted by repeat immunisation of the animal to stimulate the immune system, followed by regular bleeds to detect antibodies in the blood over time. Once the required concentration is achieved, the animal is exsanguinated and the antibodies are extracted for use. Another method for producing antibodies (monoclonal) is via the use of cells from the ovaries of the Chinese hamster. We estimate that up to ten million animals per annum may be used in the production of antibodies worldwide.

This research project will develop an animal-free chemical sensor for opioids as an alternative to immunoassays
Effective start/end date1/09/212/09/24


  • European Commission (EC) - European Regional Development Fund (ERDF): £3,759.00
  • Hertfordshire Science Partnership (HSP): £65,672.00


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