Plastic sensor monitors neurodegenerative diseasesUniversity of Cambridge researchers have developed a sensor made out of plastics that can be used to diagnose or monitor a variety of health conditions like surgical complications or neurodegenerative diseases.
The sensor is low-cost and measure the amount of critical metabolites, like lactate or glucose, that are in sweat, tears, saliva or blood. When the sensor is used with a diagnostic device, the researchers suggest it could be a quick, cheap and accurate way to monitor health conditions. So far, the device has a simpler design than other sensors and brings new potential to health monitoring on a cellular level, according to the researchers.
The University of Cambridge-developed device is comprised of semiconducting plastics that are similar to the ones that are currently being developed for solar cells and flexible electronics. However, those plastics have not seen widespread use in biological applications, yet.
The sensor on the device was built using a newly-synthesized polymer that was developed at Imperial College. The polymer acts like a molecular wire and directly accepts the electrons that are produced during electrochemical reactions. Once the material comes into contact with a liquid like sweat, blood or tears, it can absorb the ions and begins to swell and become merged with the liquid. When it merges with the liquid, there is higher sensitivity compared to traditional sensors made from metal electrodes.
Once the sensors are used in more complex circuits like transistors, the signal is amplified and can respond to tiny changes in metabolite concentration, even though the device itself is small.