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For researcher Greta Ren having a little impatience it not a bad thing—she’s ready to see results.

“The thing I really like about science is how it can solve real-world problems,” Ren said.

And with today’s growing drug overdose epidemic, Ren’s research could soon be used to quickly help emergency room medical professionals identify ‘designer’ drugs.

“I’ve designed a test that allows us to look at drug-use patient samples we get from the hospital so we can provide results in relatively quickly time,” Ren said.

Ren is conducting research alongside researcher Nick Manicke, Ph.D., in hopes the developmental screening system could someday be used in emergency departments to identify the drugs responsible for a patient’s overdose within one or two minutes.

The key component is a small, inexpensive and relatively simple disposable cartridge that contains a solid-phase extraction medium. When a small amount of plasma is placed on the cartridge, the medium pulls any drugs out of the plasma and concentrates them. The drugs are removed from the extraction medium by a drop of solvent, and then they are ionized to produce an array of molecular fragments. 

With the device, Ren is analyzing blood samples from Indianapolis emergency room patients who appeared to have overdosed on drugs.

After completing her doctorate degree, Ren hopes to work in industry to solve pressing issues in today’s world. She notes her experience at IUPUI student has offered her distinctive opportunities to her prepare her.

“I liked that I could easily learn the skills here and apply them back into the job market,” Ren said. “Since it’s a smaller program, you have a lot of opportunities to work directly with your PI and you also have a lot more opportunities to interact with other professors in the department.”

Ren presented her research at the at the 255th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). Watch Ren discuss the research at the 2018 press conference.

Story by Candace Beaty Gwaltney | Video by Lauren Kay | The ACS contributed to this story.