Pubdate: Thu, 28 Dec 2017
Source: Guardian, The (CN PI)
Copyright: 2017 The Guardian, Charlottetown Guardian Group Incorporated
Author: Terrence McEachern
Page: A1


UPEI engineering students have designed and developed a THC
breathalyzer device

A group of UPEI engineering students has come up with a way to help
detect levels of marijuana in drivers.

The students designed and developed a prototype, handheld THC
detection device.

But before they consider taking the product or a technological aspect
to market, they have some unfinished business to take care of.

"We're going to concentrate on graduating first. And then after that,
we'll see what happens," said Bryce Stewart of Wood Islands.

The group, comprised of Stewart, Mason Boertien of Souris and Robert
Smith of Mount Stewart, presented their device as part of Ali Ahmadi's
fourth-year class on innovations in biomedical engineering in the
School of Sustainable Design Engineering. Other course presentations
included improvements on existing technologies - an oyster heart
monitor and a blood oximeter.

The group got the idea to develop a THC breathalyzer based on an
alcohol breathalyzer presented in last year's class.

"It is a different design that uses some of the same components that
all breathalyzers would have to use. But, it is a different design,"
said Stewart.

They also noted that with the impending legalization of marijuana, the
device and technology are relevant.

The group tested the device with cotton swabs of THC and water and THC
and saliva, as well as swabs with just water and saliva. As one of the
presenters joked, "our saliva should be THC free, but at the same
time, everybody's saliva is different." They tested the device, which
is in a polycarbonate casing and slightly bigger than a Kleenex box,
by placing a swab five millimetres from the gas sensor. The sensor
picks up the gas type and concentration and then produces a THC
reading - a red light is positive and a green light is negative,
explained Smith.

Ahmadi, the course instructor, came to UPEI from the University of
British Columbia. While a graduate student at UBC, he worked with a
couple of his supervisors, who are also leading experts in developing
handheld breathalyzers. Along his supervisors, Ahmadi was part of a
group that worked with companies, such as Cannabix Technologies Inc.,
on developing the portable roadside technology. Ahmadi recalled that
some companies had roadside test devices so large they required a
trailer to transport.

The federal government has recently proposed to set a blood drug
concentration limit for THC for an impaired driving summary offence
between two and five nanograms (ng) per millilitre of blood while
above 5 ng would be either a summary or indictable consideration. As
well, it is proposed that when THC and alcohol are combined, a limit
of more than 2.5 ng and 50 mg/ml be set. By comparison, the blood
alcohol concentration limit for an impaired driving offence is set at
80 milligrams (mg) of alcohol per 100 millilitres (ml) of blood.

Ahmadi suspects the product that does come to market will be similar
to an alcohol pass/ fail roadside test that indicates the level of THC
presence for further testing.

Ahmadi would like to see the students try to take the product or part
of its technology to market, especially since P.E.I. has a lot of
support for startup companies.

In addition to police roadside testing, Ahmadi notes there are other
applications for the students' work on gas sensor technology, such as
workplace testing for THC.

"The competition is, I think, to make these sensors more selective to
THC and reducing the false responses. Whichever company gets there in
terms of reliability to test results is going to play a more important
role in the future," he said.

With the existing device, the group has some improvements in mind,
such as making it more compact and portable. As well, one issue that
came up with the presentation was that the device has trouble
differentiating between alcohol (depending on the concentration) and

As a result, they would like to introduce a filtering technique into
the design to help with sorting out and identifying different gases.

"Just somehow eliminating the different gases and compounds, that
would be a huge thing. We suggested microfluidic channels," said Smith.

They are also mindful that it may not be prudent to take the device to
market as a startup, especially since Cannabix is already in clinical
trials for a device that could be used roadside by law

"We deemed it almost nonviable to continue with our own business, at
least a THC breathalyzer specifically. It's kind of if we could
develop our own technology and license it out," said Smith.
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MAP posted-by: Matt