Innovative way to prevent fentanyl ODs wins University of Alberta students $100,000

·2 min read
Adarsh Badesha, left, Simran Dhillon and Ajaypartap Gill came up with the idea for a syringe with a built-in sensor that can detect a potentially fatal dose of fentanyl.  (Submitted by the University of Alberta - image credit)
Adarsh Badesha, left, Simran Dhillon and Ajaypartap Gill came up with the idea for a syringe with a built-in sensor that can detect a potentially fatal dose of fentanyl. (Submitted by the University of Alberta - image credit)

A trio of university students have come up with a way of detecting fentanyl in substances to help protect users from overdosing.

Simran Dhillon, along with colleagues Adarsh Badesha and Ajay Gill, developed a syringe with a built-in sensor which lets users know if the substance they are about to inject contains a lethal amount of fentanyl.

"We're currently creating a street-ready technology that will allow individuals access to potentially life-saving information that they don't currently have," Dhillon told CBC's Edmonton AM on Friday.

In 2020, more than 1,300 Albertans lost their lives to overdoses.

Dhillon said the three focused on the opioid crisis because they observed the growing epidemic not only on a provincial level but also a personal one.

"Myself and my co-founders have witnessed addiction and the detriment it can cause within our own families and friend circles," she said.

"And so we're all advocates of the message that one preventable life lost is too many."

'A really happy surprise'

Dhillon said the indicator would be small enough to fit inside a syringe, although they are still working on the kind of signal it would produce to indicate the presence of fentanyl.

The research won $100,000 as part of the Telus Innovation Challenge in March.

The team participated in the challenge held in Calgary and were surprised to find out they won.

"We did not see it coming, but it was a really happy surprise." she said. "It's really the catalyst to ensure that our product goes into fruition by the end of this year."

The money will be used to complete research trials with fentanyl and other controlled substances such as heroin by the end of the summer, Dhillon said.

"We're hoping to optimize the design with community consultation and also mechanical engineers," she said.

From talks with community advocates, they have found a need for innovative ideas in the field, Dhillon said.

"It's been a long time since we've seen innovation within the harm reduction sphere," she said.