iGEM is an international synthetic biology competition directed towards bringing new minds into the practicing world of genetic engineering. Every year, teams come up with projects that tackle real world problems using synthetic biology. The research process takes place primarily over the summer and culminates in fall at the annual jamboree. Biolab member Jacqueline Beaumont has been working throughout the summer as a part of Concordia University’s 2019 iGEM team.
This year, Concordia’s team has been focusing on the fentanyl crisis with their project Quantifen.
Fentanyl is an odourless, tasteless painkiller 100 times more powerful than morphine. It only takes 2mg of pure fentanyl for an adult to overdose. Fentanyl-related deaths are on the rise in Canada, many of them due to unknown consumption, as it is cut into many street drugs. Canada has an opioid crisis with accidental opioid-related deaths due to fentanyl up to 75% in 2018 from 54% in 2016 (Health Canada, 2019).
Solution: Quantifen is a non-invasive wearable biosensor adapted for fentanyl detection in sweat in the form of a temporary tattoo consisting of conductive ink layers and enzyme-functionalized iontophoretic hydrogels. Fentanyl binding creates an electrical and chromogenic alert once a limit of detection is obtained. The biological input is converted into an electrical output capable of warning the user of a fentanyl overdose via mobile alerts or by contacting emergency services. Quantifen aims to reduce fentanyl-overdose related deaths. In addition, the biosensor is modular and could be adapted for detection of other drugs or small molecules, such as cortisol.