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New test reveals risk-level consumption of alcohol and early abuse

It will soon be easy to determine whether a person has an alcohol problem. With a tiny prick of the finger a new method can detect any abuse from the last two weeks.

It can also reveal injurious and risky consumption, such as repeated weekend binges. The method is quicker, cheaper, and more accurate than present variants, which makes it interesting to primary care clinics, workplaces, and other venues where it is important to carry out health checks.

"People with incipient alcohol abuse often try to obscure their problems, both from themselves and from others. This makes it important to uncover problems in time. And for pilots, chauffeurs, and other vocational groups alcohol abuse can directly jeopardize their ability to perform their jobs," says Arthur Varga, the researcher in applied biochemistry at the Lund University Faculty of Engineering who developed the method.

Varga's work started with a doctoral dissertation in medicine. There he analyzed a newly discovered biomarker (changes in lipid molecules in the blood) that only occurs if there is ethanol in the blood. He then developed a so-called high-pressure liquid chromatographic method that is in use today at the University Hospital in Lund.

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But since the method is rather cumbersome, with long analysis times for each sample, and since it generates waste in the form of organic solvents, after his dissertation he has been studying other ways of detecting and measuring the occurrence of phosphatidyl ethanol, as the biomarker is called. It turns out that a so-called capillary electrophoresis (CE)-based method offers many advantages.

"With some simplification, it's a matter of emptying a biological material, normally a drop of blood, of its fats. It is then injected into and separated in a CE unit. The results appear within five minutes. Present methods are not only expensive and time-consuming but also sometimes produce faulty test results," says Arthur Varga. He estimates that his research could be commercialized in one or two years.

About 10-15 percent of the population accounts for 50 percent of alcohol consumption, which means that about a million Swedes consume large amounts, which can be injurious and dangerous.

Tina Zethraeus | alfa
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