UBC trials drug testing robot at music festival

Aug 15, 2023

Researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) led by Dr. Jason Hein, have created a new, portable drug testing machine, which they tested at the Shambhala Music festival held from July 21 – July 24 near Nelson, B.C.

 Since current drug testing tools are not portable, the research group created a prototype that aims to test drug samples with the same efficiency as the machines used by pharmacists and provide results in only 15 minutes. In addition, currently available portable testing techniques need to be operated by technicians, and their detection is limited to five compounds in a sample at a time. In turn, the prototype being tested by UBC uses high-performance liquid chromatography (HPCL) to automate the process.

“We know how to do this for pharma, why don’t we take the tools and skills that we have to build a robot that can do that expert testing?” said Dr. Hein in his interview with CTV News. “Somebody will put something in to it, the robot does its thing, prepares the sample, runs the sample, extracts the data and says, ‘Here’s what’s in it.’”

In addition, Dr. Hein added that he hopes to see a kiosk on the Downtown Eastside. 

“We’ve got the perfect concept and demonstration. I’m being ambitious, but with the right management expectation, this could be rolled out. We are right there. The problem is we need the right kind of team in place to make sure that we’re working with the right health authorities component. It’s really about safety, efficacy and trust and that takes time.”

Dr. Hein, Associate Professor, UBC

According to Guy Felicella, a peer clinical advisor with the B.C. Centre for Substance Use, quicker results can be revolutionary for drug testing procedures.

“If you can go there and get it done in one shot quicker, time-wise, it’ll make people look to testing their substances more instead of going through the process of waiting a long time for their results,” said Felicella.

Furthermore, Felicella added that introducing a low-barrier and anonymous tool has the potential to save lives.

“The risk of somebody who doesn’t do fentanyl and goes and buys a stimulant and it turns out to be fentanyl are catastrophic,” Felicella said