City University of Hong Kong Researchers Develop Low Cost Molecularly Imprinted Polymers for Clinical, Environmental and Food Testing

Frequent food poisoning cases and contamination caused by pesticides and chemicals in recent years have highlighted the enormous threat posed to the environment and public health. In response, efforts have been made to develop new, more efficient testing methods. Researchers at City University of Hong Kong (CityU) have devised a chemosensing analysis method of testing medicines and detecting pesticides in foods, pollutants in water and toxins in fish that is more cost-efficient, rapid and effective.
Chemosensing is a chemical-detection method in which targeted analytes are detected by molecular-level sensors known as chemosensors. The application of such a technique has always been limited by associated high costs. But CityU researchers have successfully achieved a breakthrough in overcoming such technical barriers with their molecular imprinting technology that reduces the cost of developing new chemosensors. The molecular imprinting technology is known as the template-directed polymerization technique. The name is a big mouthful but its’ small when it comes to the costs associated with generating artificial receptors for chemosensors.
“CityU has developed chemosensing applications from low-cost molecularly imprinted polymer materials for clinical testing, and environmental and food safety monitoring. It enables the pre-testing necessary for laboratory tests, and the testing results are highly reliable,” said Dr Michael Lam Hon-wah, Associate Professor of the Department of Biology and Chemistry at CityU. The Knowledge Transfer Office of CityU is now applying for a patent for this technical innovation.
Detection is usually undertaken in laboratories where analysis instruments are used in a costly and time-consuming process. The cutting-edge technology developed by CityU is unique and offers competitive advantages. It only costs one-tenth the present testing price. Results can be obtained within one minute and this testing technique is easy to manage and the technical proficiency required of operators is relatively low. The molecular imprinted polymer materials are small and highly portable.
Molecularly imprinted polymer materials can be used widely in commercial applications to detect numerous chemicals, including harmful pesticides in agricultural products, such as DDT; contaminants in drinking water, such as HCH; toxins in seafood, such as histamine; leaked poisonous gas; and Tributyltin (TBT), a harmful substance in marine coatings that can damage the auditory systems of dolphins. This innovative testing method can also prevent or minimize physical damage to both humans and the environment.