U.S. researchers develop tiny injectable sensor for long-term alcohol monitoring

LOS ANGELES– U.S. researchers at the University of California San Diego (UC San Diego) have developed a miniature, ultra-low power injectable biosensor that could be used for continuous, long-term alcohol monitoring.

Lack of convenient tools for routine monitoring is one of the challenges for patients in treatment programs.

However, the new chip is small enough to be implanted in the body just beneath the surface of the skin and is powered wirelessly by a wearable device, such as a smartwatch or patch, according to the new study, presented at the 2018 IEEE Custom Integrated Circuits Conference (CICC) which runs from April 8 to 11 in San Diego.

“The ultimate goal of this work is to develop a routine, unobtrusive alcohol and drug monitoring device for patients in substance abuse treatment programs,” Drew Hall, an electrical engineering professor at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering who led the project, was quoted as saying in a news release.

The biosensor chip contains a sensor that is coated with alcohol oxidase, an enzyme that selectively interacts with alcohol to generate a byproduct that can be electrochemically detected.

It measures roughly one cubic millimeter in size and can be injected under the skin in interstitial fluid, which surrounds the body’s cells, according to the researchers.

The chip consumes 970 nanowatts total, which is roughly one million times less power than a smartphone consumes when making a phone call.

“We don’t want the chip to have a significant impact on the battery life of the wearable device. And since we’re implanting this, we don’t want a lot of heat being locally generated inside the body or a battery that is potentially toxic,” Hall said in a statement.

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