Scientists at the Spanish Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) in Barcelona have developed a new method for monitoring the consumption of drugs of abuse in the general population. This method, which was developed using analytical laboratory technology from Applied Biosystems/MDS Analytical Technologies, can measure the levels of substances such as cocaine, amphetamines and cannabis in water from sewage treatment plants to estimate the amounts of various illegal drugs being consumed within specific regions of the country. The method provides a fully automated, faster and more specific way for estimating drug abuse than has previously been possible, and was published in the May 2008 issue of the scientific journal Analytical Chemistry1.

Traditional methods for estimating drug abuse in the population can be costly and inaccurate, relying on surveys and on social, medical, and criminal statistics. In contrast, this new method uses mass spectrometry, a laboratory technique, to test water from sewage treatment plants and provide accurate, real-time data extremely quickly and without invading the privacy of members of the public. The method’s increased speed and efficiency also reduces labor and administrative costs. The use of mass spectrometry-based methods to determine drugs of abuse in sewage and surface waters was developed a few years ago, and this latest development is the first fully automated technique for detecting and measuring multiple compounds simultaneously, offering improved analytical performance and reliability.

This enabled the CSIC scientists in Barcelona to investigate sewage water samples from regions of Barcelona and Valencia for the presence of 19 different compounds simultaneously. The compounds were from five different classes of drugs: cocaine and related substances, amphetamine-like drugs including ecstasy (MDMA), opiates including heroin and morphine, cannabinoids, and LSD and related products. Eight of these compounds, including heroin and LSD products, had not previously been analyzed in water samples.

The scientific team reported that cocainics were found in the highest quantities, followed by amphetamine-like compounds, opiates, cannabinoids, and LSD and metabolites. Samples from Barcelona showed higher levels of cocainics and morphine, and lower levels of cannabinoids, when compared with drug levels in samples from Valencia. The presence of morphine may be due at least in part to its use as a strong analgesic for medicinal purposes. The levels of cocainics and amphetamine-like compounds reported in this study were generally higher than those reported in previous studies.

“The new method offers considerable cost and time savings to water analysis laboratories, and will assist the authorities in monitoring drug abuse on a regional basis,” said Damià Barceló, full research professor and head of the CSIC department of environmental chemistry, in Barcelona. “The Applied Biosystems/MDS Analytical Technologies mass spectrometry technology is essential to the process because it can work with much smaller sample volumes than other available systems require.”

The investigations were conducted using a 4000 QTRAP® LC/MS/MS System from Applied Biosystems/MDS Analytical Technologies to analyze the water samples. The 4000 QTRAP System is a premier hybrid triple quadrupole/linear ion trap mass spectrometer that can identify, characterize and quantitate metabolites with high mass accuracy and resolution. It offers unmatched quantitative and qualitative performance within a single system, making compound identification faster and easier, and providing researchers with confidence in their results.

The 4000 QTRAP System was an essential technology for enabling the new method because of unique features that include its ability to work with much smaller sample volumes than previously established methods, which allows easy storage and freezing of the samples. This not only halts any biological activity within the samples that might affect the analysis, but also avoids the risk of contamination or alteration of the sample that could be caused by addition of preservatives. Until now, small sample volumes were not used because they risked compromising the method sensitivity; however, the detection capabilities of the 4000 QTRAP System overcome this issue. This system allows the simultaneous analysis of multiple compounds in a single run and at very low detection limits, in the low nanograms or picograms per liter range after sample preconcentration of 5 ml.

For more information on the QTRAP 4000 System and the full line of platforms, software and workflows from Applied Biosystems/MDS Analytical Technologies, please visit: www.appliedbiosystems.com

Reference 1: Postigo C, Lopez de Alda MJ, Barceló D (2008). Analytical Chemistry 80: 3123-3134.

About Applera Corporation and Applied Biosystems

Applera Corporation consists of two operating groups. The Applied Biosystems Group serves the life science industry and research community by developing and marketing instrument-based systems, consumables, software, and services. Customers use these tools to analyze nucleic acids (DNA and RNA), small molecules, and proteins to make scientific discoveries and develop new pharmaceuticals. Applied Biosystems’ products also serve the needs of some markets outside of life science research, which we refer to as “applied markets,” such as the fields of: human identity testing (forensic and paternity testing); biosecurity, which refers to products needed in response to the threat of biological terrorism and other malicious, accidental, and natural biological dangers; and quality and safety testing, for example in food and the environment. Applied Biosystems is headquartered in Foster City, CA, and reported sales of approximately $2.1 billion during fiscal 2007. Celera is a diagnostics business delivering personalized disease management through a combination of products and services incorporating proprietary discoveries. Berkeley HeartLab, a subsidiary of Celera, offers services to predict cardiovascular disease risk and optimize patient management. Celera also commercializes a wide range of molecular diagnostic products through its strategic alliance with Abbott and has licensed other relevant diagnostic technologies developed to provide personalized disease management in cancer and liver diseases. Information about Applera Corporation, including reports and other information filed by the company with the Securities and Exchange Commission, is available at http://www.applera.com, or by telephoning 800.762.6923. Information about Applied Biosystems is available at http://www.appliedbiosystems.com.

About MDS Analytical Technologies

MDS Analytical Technologies is a newly established MDS Inc. business unit and is a world-class organization comprised of two main lines of business. The Sciex product portfolio offers proven market leadership in mass spectrometry through its joint ventures with two of the world’s leading analytical instrumentation and life sciences companies, Applied Biosystems, a business of Applera Corporation, and PerkinElmer Inc. Molecular Devices’ product portfolio is the gold standard in high-performance bioanalytical measurement systems that accelerate and improve drug discovery and other life sciences research. Find out more at http://www.moleculardevices.com or http://www.mdssciex.com.

Applied Biosystems Forward Looking Statements

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© 2008 Applied Biosystems. All rights reserved. For research use only. Not for use in diagnostic procedures. Applera, Applied Biosystems, and AB (Design) are registered trademarks of Applera Corporation or its subsidiaries in the US and/or certain other countries. QTRAP is a registered trademarks of Applied Biosystems/MDS Analytical Technologies, a joint venture between Applera Corporation and MDS Inc.

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