Team developing wearable tech for disease monitoring

Aug 06, 2014
Credit: Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing

A new wearable vapor sensor being developed at the University of Michigan could one day offer continuous disease monitoring for patients with diabetes, high blood pressure, anemia or lung disease.

Wearable technologies, which include Google Glass and the Apple iWatch, are part of a booming market that's expected to swell to $14 billion in the next four years.

The new sensor, which can detect airborne chemicals either exhaled or released through the skin, would likely be the first wearable to pick up a broad array of chemical, rather than physical, attributes. U-M researchers are working with the National Science Foundation's Innovation Corps program to move the from the lab to the marketplace.

"Each of these diseases has its own biomarkers that the device would be able to sense," said Sherman Fan, a professor of . "For diabetes, acetone is a marker, for example."

Other chemicals it could detect include nitric oxide and oxygen, abnormal levels of which can point to conditions such as , anemia or .

Fan is developing the sensor with Zhaohui Zhong, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Girish Kulkarni, a doctoral candidate in electrical engineering. The researchers say their device is faster, smaller and more reliable than its counterparts, which today are much too big to be wearable. The new sensor can also detect a broader array of chemicals.

Beyond disease monitoring, the sensor has other applications. It would be able to register the presence of hazardous chemical leaks in a lab, or elsewhere, or provide data about air quality.

"With our platform technology, we can measure a variety of chemicals at the same time, or modify the device to target specific chemicals. There are limitless possibilities," Zhong said.

To create their technology, the researchers took a unique approach to detecting molecules.

"Nanoelectronic typically depend on detecting charge transfer between the sensor and a molecule in air or in solution," Kulkarni said.

However, these previous techniques typically led to strong bonds between the molecules being detected and the sensor itself. That binding leads to slow detection rates.

"Instead of detecting molecular charge, we use a technique called heterodyne mixing, in which we look at the interaction between the dipoles associated with these molecules and the nanosensor at high frequencies," Girish said.

This technique, made possible through the use of graphene, results in extremely fast response times of tenths of a second, as opposed to the tens or hundreds of seconds typical in existing technology. It also dramatically increases the device's sensitivity. The sensor can detect molecules in sample sizes at a ratio of several parts per billion.

These nanoelectronic graphene vapor sensors can be completely embedded in a microgas chromatography system, which is the gold standard for vapor analysis, the researchers say. The entire microgas chromatography system can be integrated on a single chip with low power operation, and embedded in a badge-sized device that can be worn on the body to provide noninvasive and continuous monitoring of specific health conditions.

"We believe this device can be extremely beneficial to society," Fan said.

Explore further: Gold shapes up as new-age sensor

More information: The technology is described in the paper, "Graphene nanoelectronic heterodyne sensor for rapid and sensitive vapour detection," which is published in Nature Communications.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Gold shapes up as new-age sensor

Jul 07, 2014

(Phys.org) —A wearable pressure sensor that is both highly sensitive and cheap to produce could aid the development of prosthetic skin, touch-on flexible displays and energy harvesting, as well as changing ...

Graphene surfaces on photonic racetracks

Jul 28, 2014

In an article published in Optics Express, scientists from The University of Manchester describe how graphene can be wrapped around a silicon wire, or waveguide, and modify the transmission of light through it.

New optical sensors swell when exposed to target gas

Jun 17, 2014

Using microscopic polymer light resonators that expand in the presence of specific gases, researchers at MIT's Quantum Photonics Laboratory have developed new optical sensors with predicted detection levels ...

Electronic chip zooms in on explosives

Jun 24, 2014

A new electronic chip with microscopic chemical sensors can detect explosives in the air at concentrations as low as a few molecules per 1,000 trillion, its Israeli developers said Tuesday.

Recommended for you

A spray-on light show on four wheels: Darkside Scientific

Sep 14, 2014

Darkside Scientific recently drew a lot of gazes its way in its video release of a car treated to the company's electroluminescent paint called LumiLor. Electroluminescence (EL) is a characteristic of a material ...

Research project on accident-avoiding vehicle concluded

Sep 12, 2014

PRORETA 3 is completed after three and a half years of research work: The comprehensive driver assistance and automated maneuver concept supports the driver in keeping the vehicle in a safe driving corridor- ...

Making drones more customizable

Sep 12, 2014

A first-ever standard "operating system" for drones, developed by a startup with MIT roots, could soon help manufacturers easily design and customize unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for multiple applications.

User comments : 0