Analysis for Innovators: Supporting industry

The Coconut Collaborative Ltd (CCL) manufactures Coconut Yogurt for the UK and a wide international market. Based on its innovative products and strong market presence it has become the market leading coconut brand in the UK.

Quality checks are required to ensure CCL maintains the high quality of product expected by its growing consumer base. The unwanted use of a barrel of coconut cream tainted by rancidity in the manufacture of coconut cream renders it unsuitable for sale and consumption. This leads to complete batches of coconut yogurt being rejected. Checks for rancidity are currently performed manually, with batches of coconut cream being tasted ahead of their use in production. With the growth of the business, this is becoming increasingly impractical but there are currently no automated methods available to test for rancidity.

beach-coconut-delicious-322483Through the Analysis for Innovators (A4I) partnership, CCL had access to innovative and advanced measurement and analytical technologies at both the National Measurement Laboratory (NML) and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) to develop assess the feasibility of developing a rapid and robust screening approach to detect rancidity in coconut cream.

Impact

Supply specialists, engineers and scientists from CCL, the NML and STFC assessed the feasibility of using multispectral imaging (MSI) and Raman spectroscopy to detect traces of rancid coconut cream ahead of its use in the production of coconut yogurt.

Multispectral imaging (MSI) methods showed the sensitivity and repeatability to screen for and detect rancid coconut cream, performing a non-destructive test in no more than 20 seconds. MSI has also been shown to have the potential to be used as a quantitative screening approach to determine the level of rancidity in a sample of coconut cream.

These encouraging results have demonstrated proof of principle for using MSI as the basis for an enhanced level of quality control and screening in CCL’s manufacturing plants. This screening approach will help avoid annual costs in excess of £500k through reduced production and material charges. With further optimisation, MSI could also be used as a predictive tool upstream in the sample production process prior to the onset of
full rancidity, making further efficiency and cost savings for the industry in general.

In addition, the method has been “future proofed” so that it can also be extended to understand variations in coconut cream consistency between batches, suppliers and even geographic origin, as well as screening for the presence of other undesirable materials which could affect the quality of coconut cream.

This project has allowed CCL to continue to support the growth of its business whilst benefiting from the expertise brought by the collaboration with the NML and STFC.

International Coffee Day: Would you like chicory with that?

nathan-dumlao-492751-unsplashToday is International Coffee Day and, not that anyone needed an extra reason to have a cup, the world is taking the opportunity to enjoy a fine cup of one of the world’s most popular drinks. But what if we told you that 170 years ago, enjoying a cup of joe often meant drinking a hot cup of roasted root vegetables instead?

Coffee adulteration has been common since at least the early 1800s, when laws were already in place banning the substitution of coffee with other mixtures¹. One of the most common adulterants was chicory, a plant whose roots are baked, roasted and ground for use as a food additive.

Chicory is still in use today as a legitimate additive for various foods, including coffee and beer. But in the 1800’s, many sellers advertised their mixtures as ‘pure coffee’, so much so that our earliest lab, known then as the Government Laboratory, was tasked with analysing samples from coffee mixtures to determine if they were in fact pure coffee.

At that time, the Victorians were a bit obsessed with coffee, England’s most popular drink until tea overtook it in 1853. “In 1840, the year Victoria married Prince Albert, Britain imported 28 million pounds of tea, but we imported more than twice as much coffee at 70 million pounds,” said the Telegraph in a report on an old ONS survey.

Because the market for coffee was so strong, there was financial incentive for adulterating coffee with other substances. Now called economically motivated adulteration, this coffee adulteration led the government to have botanists and chemists study the composition of various plants, and ultimately led to advances in methods of analysing the differences between coffee, chicory and other substances.

IMG_20170929_114736

Original analytical table in letter from John Lindley to John Wood, 1852.

In a letter dated 9 June 1852², English botanist John Lindley wrote to the Inland Revenue’s Chairman John Wood, “…we have carefully examined samples of Coffee and Chicory in different states and there is no difficulty in detecting their mixture however finely they may be ground if they be examined under a good microscope.” What follows are detailed descriptions of the cells of various substances, including chicory, to which Lindley pointed out, “When roasted Chicory in powder is dropped in mere water, cold, a pale amber yellow cloud will gradually form round each particle; but roasted coffee powder gives out no such colour.”

In another letter, dated 9 November 1852³, Lindley describes how, following their research, they have been able to identify other adulterants, saying “It appears that the articles usually employed for mixing are the Roots of Mangel Wurzel, Turnips, Parsnips and Carrots, or Seeds such as Beans, Peas, Lupines, Acorns and Malt.”

Coffee adulteration still occurs today, but our tools and analysis capabilities, as well as food safety laws, have come a long way.  So while you’re enjoying your cup of joe on International Coffee Day, relish the fact that you are sharing a time-honoured tradition with the Victorians, but more importantly, that you aren’t drinking roasted acorns!

¹Weighed in the Balance, by PW Hammond and Harold Egan, 1992, pg 40-43.

²Lindley, John. Chicory & Coffee. Letter. London, 9 June 1852. Inland Revenue, Laboratory of the Government Chemist.

³Lindley, John. Chicory & Coffee. Letter. London, 9 November 1852. Inland Revenue, Laboratory of the Government Chemist.

Helping authorities detect fentanyl analogues

The past several years has seen growing awareness of a drug called fentanyl, which is increasingly cited in relation to drug overdoses, including many high profile deaths, as well as becoming the focus of many law enforcement agencies, especially in the United States.

macro of pills

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have named fentanyl the most significant synthetic opioid threat in the U.S. in 2018, while the Centre for Disease Control in the United States have determined that the rate of drug overdose death from synthetic opioids, not including methadone, doubled in just one year from 2015 to 2016. In 2016, opioids caused 42,000 deaths, and nearly half of those were fentanyl-related, including the deaths of Prince, Tom Petty and Lil Peep.

But is fentanyl a new drug? And if not, why has it suddenly become a major factor in the opioid crisis?

Fentanyl was first synthesised in 1959 by Paul Janssen and has been used as a pain reliever and general anaesthetic in operating rooms. While there are legitimate uses for fentanyl, it presents a formidable public health risk, especially in the United States. While some drug users seek it out for recreational use, many are unaware that what they are buying is fentanyl, as illicit drug makers use it to adulterate more expensive pharmaceuticals and opioids, like heroin. It is 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine, and while it only costs $6,000 to purchase one kilogram of fentanyl in a lab, that one kilogram can have a distribution value of up to $1.6 million. This presents an enormous economic motive for replacing common opioids with fentanyl.

Fentanyl analogues, or compounds with a similar molecular structure, make it even more difficult to regulate. Analogues are manufactured in labs, and once one is discovered by law enforcement and outlawed, another analogue is already waiting to be put into use. Some, like carfentanil, are particularly dangerous. Carfentanil is 100 times stronger than fentanyl (making it 10,000 times stronger than a unit of morphine), and as such, is used to sedate large mammals, like elephants. These highly potent drugs can rapidly incapacitate by causing central nervous and respiratory depression.

Our Sport and Specialised Analytical Services team performs analysis for forensics laboratories, including those working with police authorities and coroners, to detect and identify drugs in body fluids and drug seizures.  Work is also performed to understand more about how the latest drugs are metabolised in the body. The study of drug metabolism, or pharmacokinetics, is vital to understanding how drugs break down in the human body.  In a forensic environment it is very important to know how the body changes a drug in order to be able to detect it in forensic tests.

Scientists at LGC Simon Hudson and Charlotte Cutler studied the metabolic fate of several analogues of fentanyl, including carfentanil, and published three white papers on their findings. Each paper goes through their methodology, which can be used as an aid to detect the analogues in biological fluids.

In one of the case studies, Simon studied carfentanil in post mortem blood samples.  Not much has been understood about the metabolism of carfentanil, which suggests that the true extent of carfentanil-related deaths is unknown. After analysing over 70 carfentanil cases, Simon found that the parent drug was always present in blood and urine post mortem and that in some cases, due to the low levels of carfentanil, extremely sensitive analytical equipment was required detect it’s presence.

In the other papers, Simon and Charlotte studied samples from UK siezures of drugs that were originally reported by authorities in Latvia and Slovenia between December 2016 and August 2017. They were able to identify many metabolites of cyclopropylfentanyl and methoxyacetylfentanyl. These studies are a beneficial tool to help authorities and scientists detect these analogues in the future.

To learn more about the history of fentanyl, its chemistry and current issues, watch our interesting webinar. And to understand more about Simon’s work and studies on the drug, read the white papers on carfentanil, methoxyacetylfentanyl, and cyclopropylfentanyl.

A4I is back for another round!

Analysis for Innovators is back! The latest round of the A4I programme from Innovate UK and its partners (LGC, NPL, NEL, & STFC) has now opened, with up to £3M available in total for Round 3.

In our role as the National Measurement Laboratory, we have worked with Innovate UK since the very start of A4I, back in January 2017, and the programme has proved such a success that we are already moving on to the third round!

But be quick to take advantage of this opportunity as the first stage of the application closes at noon on 6th September.  A4I is a very unique programme from Innovate UK – it helps UK businesses address difficult problems that restrict their potential productivity and competitiveness.  The scope is very wide (chemical, physical, biological and computing) but the problems must be of a measurement or analysis nature.

A4I targets real industry problems that haven’t been solved with existing products or services. As such, it is of interest to companies that have not traditionally considered applying for funding. Any size of business, with any type of measurement or analysis problem, are eligible to apply. If your company makes it past the first stage, you will be matched with us, NPL, NEL or STFC for a consultation. After this stage, some companies will continue to work with us in our own world-class measurement labs.

The first two rounds of the A4I programme have seen us help several companies overcome measurement problems. In Round 1, we worked with the Coconut Collaborative, a manufacturer of coconut yoghurt, and STFC to develop a rapid and robust screening method to detect rancid coconut cream before its use. The use of rancid cream led to lost sales and waste for the company. We helped develop a novel screening approach with multi-spectral imaging, which will help the Coconut Collective avoid annual costs of £500k.

We also worked with Sistemic to help ensure the safety of cell therapy products, by increasing the sensitivity of their novel technology, which detects contamination in cell therapy products. Cell therapies are seen as the future of treatment in a number of areas including diabetes and cardiovascular disease. However, one type of cell being used to generate cell therapy products (pluripotent stem cells, or PSCs) has the potential to form tumours. The NML enhanced the sensitivity and specificity of the Sistemic novel prototype miRNA-assay to the levels required for market (<10 cells per million). This assay will ensure producers can accurately assess PSC contamination in their cell therapy products.

Other examples of the companies that were funded under A4I Round 1 can be found at Analysis for Innovators winning projects, and for more information about the work and case studies of the NML at LGC, have a look here at our latest annual review.

And don’t forget to apply now– there’s £3 million up for grabs!

Analysis for Innovators: How we can solve your measurement problem

LGC, in our role as the UK National Measurement Laboratory and Designated Institute for chemical and bio-measurement, partnered with Innovate UK to launch a new funding programme ‘Analysis for Innovators’ (A4I) last year.

The aim of A4I was simple: to solve real problems affecting productivity or performance of UK companies of all sizes using the world-leading measurement facilities available at LGC and other national laboratories (NPL, NEL, STFC).

After the success of the first round, Analysis for Innovators is opening a new round of applications in March to UK companies who wish to take advantage of our expertise, research and development to help solve a measurement problem. And this year’s round has £4 million reserved to fund 12-month projects, with up to £250,000 for each project.

Companies are asked to submit a two-minute video outlining an existing measurement problem, without providing any solutions. This gives us insight in to what the obstacle looks like, the approaches the companies have already tried, and how solving it might change their business going forward.

After watching the videos from last year’s competition, LGC scientists sat down with the competition winners and discussed the problems in more detail. This approach encouraged creative thinking from our scientists and provided companies with access to our experts even if they did not progress to the next competition stage. In fact, feedback from the first round indicated that this stage was itself incredibly useful, and as a result the initial successful outcome of the current A4I programme will be a longer consultancy session with our measurement experts before progressing on to potential projects.

Previous collaborations included developing an assay to continuously monitor cortisol for a wearable device to improve diagnosis and treatment of disease, improving the sensitivity of a novel assay developed to ensure the safety of cell therapy products, and optimising an innovative non-chemical disinfection process to provide a cost-effective system for cleaning water and other fluids.

This programme benefits companies who otherwise would not be able to consult with our scientists, but it also benefits LGC by giving us the opportunity to see the outcomes of the vital measurement work we do every day. Our scientists are at the forefront of measurement technology, so it’s exciting to see how our science can affect and change lives for the better. These applications of our expertise remind us why what we do is important and inspire us to continue.

If you’re planning on applying for the next round of funding, or if you’d just like to learn more about the programme, register to join us at one of the remaining roadshows in February and March. We’ll be there to help share the work of our collaborations and illustrate how our analysis can help solve your problem.