CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers at Oregon State University have tapped into the extraordinary power of carbon “nanotubes” to increase the speed of biological sensors, a technology that might one day allow a doctor to routinely perform lab tests in minutes, speeding diagnosis and treatment while reducing costs.
The new findings have almost tripled the speed of prototype nano-biosensors, and should find applications not only in medicine but in toxicology, environmental monitoring, new drug development and other fields.
The research was just reported in Lab on a Chip, a professional journal. More refinements are necessary before the systems are ready for commercial production, scientists say, but they hold great potential.
“With these types of sensors, it should be possible to do many medical lab tests in minutes, allowing the doctor to make a diagnosis during a single office visit,” said Ethan Minot, an OSU assistant professor of physics. “Many existing tests take days, cost quite a bit and require trained laboratory technicians.
“This approach should accomplish the same thing with a hand-held sensor, and might cut the cost of an existing $50 lab test to about $1,” he said.
The key to the new technology, the researchers say, is the unusual capability of carbon nanotubes. An outgrowth of nanotechnology, which deals with extraordinarily small particles near the molecular level, these nanotubes are long, hollow structures that have unique mechanical, optical and electronic properties, and are finding many applications.
In this case, carbon nanotubes can be used to detect a protein on the surface of a sensor. The nanotubes change their electrical resistance when a protein lands on them, and the extent of this change can be measured to determine the presence of a particular protein – such as serum and ductal protein biomarkers that may be indicators of breast cancer.
The newest advance was the creation of a way to keep proteins from sticking to other surfaces, like fluid sticking to the wall of a pipe. By finding a way to essentially “grease the pipe,” OSU researchers were able to speed the sensing process by 2.5 times.
Further work is needed to improve the selective binding of proteins, the scientists said, before it is ready to develop into commercial biosensors.
“Electronic detection of blood-borne biomarker proteins offers the exciting possibility of point-of-care medical diagnostics,” the researchers wrote in their study. “Ideally such electronic biosensor devices would be low-cost and would quantify multiple biomarkers within a few minutes.”
This work was a collaboration of researchers in the OSU Department of Physics, Department of Chemistry, and the University of California at Santa Barbara. A co-author was Vincent Remcho, professor and interim dean of the OSU College of Science, and a national expert in new biosensing technology.
The research was supported by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory through the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute.
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Wearable technology has been the favorite hunting ground for researchers in the past few years. And with the development of nanotechnology and advanced bio-engineering methods, a number of useful devices have actually resulted out of it. From the pulse monitoring wrist bands to pollution level measuring head bands the industry is quite abuzz with all these technologically advanced gadgets. And now, the researchers claim to have found one more to add to that ever growing list. And this time it’s not just a fancy gadget, but an actual life-saving device that can mean the difference between life or death of a person. Yes, now researchers have made it possible for you to wear health monitoring systems that can also transmit data to your doctor, so he can respond if he sees a sign of trouble. Read on to find out more.
Antennas that connect the world
We live in a world where wireless communication technology has almost become as common as a wrist watch. Almost everything is sent via these packet data that carry information for miles without the requirement of any wires or devices. But yet, a lot of us have been in the situation where we had to be hospitalized for an entire day, just because our doctor thought our condition would become unstable in the future. But finally it’s always the same result after all that excruciating waiting. But not anymore, now doctors don’t need to keep their patients in the hospital to check their heart rate or monitor their vitals or their respiration levels, they can just send them out in the open and monitor their health remotely with the help of antennas.
Bio-electronic health monitoring device
How you ask? Well, it’s simple, instead of all those nifty gadgets that clamp every part of your body to check the vitals, doctors from now will just stick you up with a plaster that’s about an inch in size. Now, this plaster has a transmitting membrane, which acts like an antenna, and also has a number of sensors that keep recording your body functions. The data is then transmitted through the antenna to the clinic, where a medical professional will be monitoring it closely. So if something concerning shows up, you can soon see an ambulance following you. This bio-electronic wearable health monitoring device is made up of a special polymer that attaches itself well to the contour of the skin. And it continues working no matter how much you twist or turn it, so essentially, you have your very own synthetic second skin attached to you.
How is the sensor made?
The sensor has been made using advanced nanomaterial. What the researchers did was that they used the silver nanotubes which can effectively monitor your body reading, and made a specific pattern out of it with stencil, so that it fits your body perfectly. Then the nanotubes were covered with a special liquid polymer, which after setting down forms the outer membrane layer of the sensor. This polymer membrane is also the antenna part of the biometric sensor, which transmits the signals to the receptor.
A whole new start
So now with this technology in place, patients no longer have to wait unnecessarily for monitoring and can empty their beds for more deserving patients. Also the biometric sensors make the recovery process much quicker and much safer. It is believed that a number of serious health issues like strokes, paralysis or narcolepsy can be effectively monitored using these antenna fitted, wireless monitoring devices. It also allows the patients their much required freedom from the white walls.