- The Washington Times - Monday, September 13, 2004

LENEXA, Kan. — Synthetic urine, which sounds like something more likely to generate snickers than sales, is turning into a small success for a Kansas company.

Dyna-Tek Industries, a company bought by Kevin Dyches and his wife, Sandra, five years ago, has developed synthetic urine for the research industry.

One of its first customers was the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which made a big purchase this summer and has hinted that it could be a major buyer far into the future. Other research institutions and laboratories also are looking into Dyna-Tek’s product, called Surine.

“We have been very blessed with this,” said Mr. Dyches, who handles finances and marketing for the three-member company, discreetly tucked away in a suburban Kansas City office park. “It was pretty discouraging until about a year ago.”

The laboratory industry has a serious need for synthetic urine. Researchers, drug-testing labs and other institutions buy thousands of gallons of the real stuff, mostly to calibrate the equipment used to test regular urine samples for drugs or other substances. Researchers periodically check the accuracy of their equipment by introducing samples that have been intentionally spiked with drugs and other chemicals.

But human urine has its limitations: It decays rapidly if not kept refrigerated and must be frozen when shipped. It can be odorous, and it foams. Donors must be screened carefully for drug use or disease. Also, differences in body chemistry guarantee that no two persons’ urine is exactly alike, an irritation for researchers who rely on consistency.

A fully synthetic urine could eliminate those problems.

“I think in the next few years, synthetic urine will replace human urine” in laboratories, said Fred Klaus, purchasing manager for Redwood Toxicology, a Santa Rosa, Calif., company that tests about 30,000 urine samples a day and is considering trying Surine. “If you end up with something like Surine that’s very stable and easy to maintain, you’re going to go to that because that’s one of your savers.”

David Ashley is the chief of the CDC’s emergency-response and air-toxicants branch. His agency bought 33 liters of Surine but might buy more than 10 times that amount if it meets expectations.

Mr. Ashley’s agency has a long history of handling human urine, but a new joint program with state health departments for monitoring harmful substances in the environment would require large amounts of urine quickly.

“We’re faced with the very large challenge of producing material for all of those labs that will be consistent across the board,” Mr. Ashley said.

Several other companies have tried making synthetic urine. Their products typically were based on human urine but treated with preservatives to reduce some of its problems.

Most of those products have fared poorly in lab tests, said Dr. Robert Willette, president of Denver-based Duo Research and one of the country’s foremost specialists on drug testing.

“None have been commercially successful,” Dr. Willette said.

“The criteria is it doesn’t interfere with the tests, and the labs can’t tell the difference.”

Dr. Willette was one of several specialists who advised Dyna-Tek in developing Surine, but he said he has no financial relationship with the company.

“I’m very interested in giving advice, because I want to become a customer,” he said. “When you look at all the labs that have to use control samples to calibrate their instruments, there’s an enormous potential out there.”

There is another, less-legitimate potential: Mr. Dyches said he has received calls from companies that want to sell his product to drug users so that they can pass drug tests. He said he rejected those sales and continues to do business only with reputable research labs.

However, he said he ultimately will have to consider security, especially if the market for Surine grows and it becomes more difficult to keep track of where it goes.

“I don’t know how you avoid that,” he said.

Mr. Dyches said the company, which was started in 1993 by a hospital toxicologist, is still small, with less than $500,000 in annual sales.

Its main business is selling glass test tubes and evaporator cups used in manual and automated drug testing.

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