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Scientists have innovated a wearable sensor that can detect compounds, in sweat, that are associated with a variety of health conditions, including gout and metabolic disorders. The highly sensitive sensors can be mass-produced, making them appropriate for widespread health monitoring.
A Highly Sensitive, Mass-Produced Sensor to Detect Disease
A team of researchers at the California Institute of Technology recognized that the method of evaluating markers of illness through analyzing blood samples may be outdated. While blood tests are uncomfortable and time-consuming, they are viewed as a necessary part of health monitoring. However, the California based team has innovated a sensor that could replace blood tests in most cases.
In a paper published this month in the journal Nature Biotechnology, the team, led by assistant professor of medical engineering, Wei Gao, detail how they developed wearable sweat sensors with capabilities that exceed those of currently available sensors.
The Caltech team established new sensors that not only can continuously monitor various biomarkers, but can also accurately measure low analyte concentrations, and can be easily mass-produced. To do this, they created a laser-engraved sensor with the ability to detect respiration rate, temperature, and low concentrations of uric acid and tyrosine, the analytes related to diseases.
Continuous Monitoring for More Effective Disease Prevention
Scientists believe the impact of the new sensor will be in changing the way that illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or kidney disease are monitored and prevented. Illnesses like these are caused by abnormal levels of nutrients or metabolites in the blood. Being able to continuously monitor these in real-time, non invasively, could lead to personalized monitoring, early diagnosis, and timely intervention.
Microfluidics Offer The Key to Innovative Sensors
The key to the success of the new sensors lies in their use of microfluidics, a technology that relies on the manipulation of tiny volumes of liquid. The use of microfluidics means that the sensors can take accurate readings of the composition of sweat without evaporation or contamination limiting the analysis.
Previously, most wearable sensors that used microfluidics had been constructed with an expensive lithography-evaporation process. Instead, the Caltech team fabricated theirs from graphene, through a process of engraving plastic sheets with a carbon dioxide laser, a process that is cheap and easily scalable.
The Future of Disease Monitoring and Prevention
The sensors were developed to specifically measure tyrosine and uric acid as well as basic vitals. Tyrosine was selected as it is a marker of illnesses such as eating disorders, liver disease, metabolic disorders, and neuropsychiatric conditions. Uric acid is an indicator of gout, which researchers considered important to monitor considering its increasing prevalence worldwide.
The accuracy of the sensors was thoroughly evaluated, with scientists running a series of tests on a group of healthy individuals and a patient group. Blood samples were taken to compare with the results the sensors generated, and analysis found the two to be consistently highly correlated. The sensors were found to be more sensitive than alternative available devices at detecting low concentrations of sweat compounds.
The research demonstrated that the new sensors are not only accurate but are also more sensitive than other devices currently on the market. They are likely to impact the way various diseases are identified and have the potential to evolve treatment options for patients. Continual monitoring of uric acid and tyrosine levels in the blood will open the door to new, personalized treatments, perhaps allowing patients to adjust their medication levels according to sensor readings. The establishment of these sensors is likely to be invaluable to medical research as well as the future of medical treatment.