Forensic chemist Jan Halámek again has found a revolutionary use for human sweat—this time to maintain drunk drivers off the road.
Halámek and his staff of researchers at the University at Albany, led by Division of Chemistry graduate student Mindy Hair, are creating a sensing strip that can detect an individual’s blood alcohol content (BAC) based on ethanol ranges in a small sweat pattern.
As per Halámek, sweat glands are close enough to circulate blood that ethanol can be transferred between the two fluids. His group’s sensing strip would work in a manner that’s similar to a pregnancy test or glucometer. When the piece is placed against the skin of a suspected intoxicated individual, any ethanol current produces a visible color spot. The darker the spot, the more alcohol in the system.
The strip triggers an enzymatic cascade—a series of successive biochemical reactions involving enzymes—that is optimized to test for ethanol levels in sweat.
As proof of idea, the Halámek lab was permitted to lead a managed drinking study with 26 volunteers. After offering a sweat pattern to prove sobriety, the volunteers consumed several shots of 40% vodka to obtain 0.08% BAC.
The sweat samples confirmed a strong correlation with the breathalyzer readings. Findings had been printed in Analytical Chemistry.
Halámek cites that portable breathalyzers have quite a few flaws. For instance, diabetics can have acetone in their breath that’s unrelated to intoxication levels. Mouthwashes, breath fresheners, and even vapors in the air from windshield wiper fluid may also inflate BAC readings. Further, the test needs breath to be blown for a full 10 seconds before a reading can be recorded.