New Pressure-Based Sensors Could Enable Simple, Affordable Detection of Diseases and Pollution

Traditional sensors can help when it comes to testing for environmental pollution, cancer and food contaminants.

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But they mostly are expensive, bulky, non-intuitive and complicated. Recently, a research team reports in ACS Sensors that portable pressure-based detectors combined with smartphone software could offer a simpler, more economical alternative while still retaining sensitivity.

Existing disease and contamination sensors need trained personnel or costly readout equipment. Yuehe Lin, Yong Tang and colleagues recommend a new detection system based on pressure changes. For instance, when a disease biomarker is present, it triggers a chain reaction in the device that results in oxygen being discharged and pressure increasing. The changes in the pressure are measured by a portable barometer, and the smartphone software provides an easy readout of the results.

To exhibit the versatility of the pressure sensor, the team tested a range of applications. Prototypes were able to detect thrombin, a cardiovascular disease marker, carcinoembryonic antigen, a protein present in high levels in patients with rectal or colon cancer; and ractopamine, which is an animal-feed additive banned in a number of countries. Furthermore, a mercury-ion sensor was built for environmental pollution monitoring. The Researchers say that since the results are instantly available with a smartphone, the technique could allow real-time monitoring of disease outbreaks, environmental pollution and food safety.

The Authors received funding assistance from the National Key Development Program of China, the Technology Research Program of Guangzhou City, the Technology Research Program of Guangdong Province and the Guangdong Innovative and Entrepreneurial Research Team Program.

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