An international research team led by the University of Cambridge, UK, and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Saudi Arabia, has developed a plastic sensor to provide a low-cost option for the monitoring of various health conditions, including neurodegenerative disorders.
The sensor, which can also be used for diagnostic purposes, has been designed to measure the levels of certain metabolites such as lactate or glucose found in sweat, tears, saliva and blood.
Furthermore, the sensor can be embedded into a diagnostic device to enable the rapid and accurate monitoring of patients.
To develop the sensor, the researchers used semiconducting plastics which are commonly used in solar cells and flexible electronics
The team specifically used a new polymer developed at Imperial College. The polymer works as a molecular wire because it can directly accept the electrons generated during electrochemical reactions.
Upon interaction with a liquid such as sweat or blood, the polymer absorbs ions, swells and subsequently merges with the liquid. This mechanism is said to result in higher sensitivity when compared to standard sensors that are made of metal electrodes.
University of Cambridge Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology department postdoctoral researcher Anna-Maria Pappa said: “It opens up new directions in biosensing, where materials can be designed to interact with a specific metabolite, resulting in far more sensitive and selective sensors.”
As the new sensor is devoid of metals, it is expected to allow easy implementation in wearable or implantable applications.
The researchers plan to further refine the sensor to monitor metabolic activity of human cells outside the body in real-time.