A quick, cost-effective method for detection of drugs of abuse in biological fluids would be of great value in healthcare, law enforcement, and home testing applications. The alarming rise in narcotics abuse has led to considerable focus on developing potent and versatile analytical tools that can address this societal problem. While laboratory testing plays a key role in the current detection of drug misuse and the evaluation of patients with drug induced intoxication, these typically require expensive reagents and trained personnel, and may take hours to complete. Thus, a significant unmet need is to engineer a facile method that can rapidly detect drugs with little sample preparation, especially the bound fraction that is typically dominant in the blood stream.
Here we report an approach that combines the exquisite sensitivity of surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) and a facile protein tethering mechanism to reliably detect four different classes of drugs, barbiturate, benzodiazepine, amphetamine and benzoylecgonine. The proposed approach harnesses the reliable and specific attachment of proteins to both drugs and nanoparticle to facilitate the enhancement of spectral markers that are sensitive to the presence of the drugs. In conjunction with chemometric tools, we have shown the ability to quantify these drugs lower than levels achievable by existing clinical immunoassays. Through molecular docking simulations, we also probe the mechanistic underpinnings of the protein tethering approach, opening the door to detection of a broad class of narcotics in biological fluids within a few minutes as well as for groundwater analysis and toxin detection.