Lausanne, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) -Magnetic Resonance Symmetry (MRS), the technique behind MRI scans done in hospitals could well be adopted by customs officials, if Swiss researchers in Lausanne and Geneva have their way. MRS has been shown by the group to be useful for scanning large cargoes and spotting cocaine that is being smuggled in wine bottles without having to open or disturb the cargo container.
A man in the UK reportedly died in 2009 as a result of unwittingly consuming cocaine-laced wine, but customs officials have a tough job spotting such bottles, or have had until now. They must carry out drug-panel tests on open bottles, but “first, contaminated cargo can be overlooked, since it is not possible to check a large number of samples,” writes Giulio Gambarota of EPFL in the Wiley Online Library.
“Second, cargo with expensive wine cannot be systematically sampled at a reasonable cost. Thus, a ‘non-invasive’ approach is of interest, as it would allow for an increase in sampling rate, without alterations to the cargo itself.”
The research work showed that “dissolved cocaine can be detected in intact wine bottles, on a standard clinical MR scanner” in about a minute, making it the option of choice, writes the lead author.
The research was supported by several groups in Switzerland: the Centre d’Imagerie Biomédicale (CIBM) of the UNIL, UNIGE, HUG, CHUV, EPFL, and the Leenaards Jeantet Foundation.
A second technique for identifying cocaine in wine was published at the end of September, at the same time the Swiss group published its research online. A group at Leeds University showed that a portable desktop scanner is also capable of detecting cocaine in wine, through bottles of any colour. The solution has cost and portability on its side, but cannot be used to scan large quantities, for example to spot laced wine hidden in cargo containers. The MRS solution also has potentially valuable legal benefits, since some current options can identify that there is a substance in the wine without identifying it clearly as cocaine, which the MRS scans can do.