Published on: 07-06-2020

Dr. Ellen Mwenesongole is a Forensic Science Lecturer at Botswana International University of Science & Technology (BIUST), where she has been involved in developing undergraduate and postgraduate forensic science courses as well as establishing a Forensic Chemistry research group. Dr. Mwenesongole holds a PhD in Forensic Science from Anglia Ruskin University (Cambridge, UK), and has also worked in toxicology, pharmaceutical and doping control laboratories.

Profiled as one of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s ‘175 Faces of Chemistry’, her research interests are in chemical profiling of illicit drugs as well as the extraction and detection of prohibited and controlled substances (including illicit drugs) from various matrices such as waste water, using mass spectrometric techniques. Drug abuse has contributed to detrimental social, health and economic implications in Southern Africa. Current research projects undertaken by the Forensic Chemistry Research Group at BIUST include chemical profiling of nyaope (a mixture of mainly heroin and cannabis) and methamphetamine (“Tik”) and waste water based epidemiology, targeting commonly used illicit drugs.

Aside from linking samples seized from different areas through their chemical profile, which in turn can be used to establish drug trafficking and distribution patterns, the research also aims to identify the cutting agents and adulterants used when making a mixture of nyaope. These are thought to include bicarbonate of soda, pool cleaner, teething powder, rat poison, lidocaine, acetaminophen, caffeine, methaqualone and antiretroviral drugs.

Waste water based epidemiology is based on detecting drugs of abuse in waste water with the aim of estimating community drug usage. This is in order to obtain near real-time information on the types and levels of drugs being used by communities in Botswana. The research projects, undertaken by masters and PhD students, are done in collaboration with the South African Police Service and Anglia Ruskin University (UK).

Related publications:

  • Mthembi, P.M., Mwenesongole, E.M., Cole, M.D., 2019. Chemical profiling of the street cocktail drug ‘nyaope’ in South Africa using GC–MS II: Stability studies of the cannabinoid, opiate and antiretroviral components during sample storage. Forensic Science International, 300, pp. 187–192.
  • Mthembi, P.M., Mwenesongole, E.M., Cole, M.D., 2018. Chemical profiling of the street cocktail drug ‘nyaope’ in South Africa using GC-MS I: Stability studies of components of ‘nyaope’ in organic solvents. Forensic Science International, 292, pp. 115-124.
  • Mwenesongole, E.M., Gautam, L., Hall, S.W., Waterhouse, J.W., Cole, M.D., 2013. Simultaneous detection of controlled substances in waste water. Analytical Methods, 5, pp. 3248-3254.