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New Technology Could Lead To Wearable Biosensors
August 28, 2017

With each passing day, promotion of personal health and well-being programs and products becomes more and more ubiquitous. Whether it’s radio, television, or print announcements about vitamin supplements, or exercise programs, or diet plans, the overall message is the same: Take a proactive approach towards monitoring and improving individual health. So imagine having a hand-held or wearable device that would continuously analyze your sweat or blood for different types of biomarkers, such as proteins or DNA molecules, that show you may have some possibly life-threatening condition.

An artists' rendition of microparticles flowing through a channel and passing through electric fields, where they are detected electronically and barcode-scanned. Image courtesy of Ella Marushchenko and Alexander Tokarev/Ella Maru Studios.

Such a device may not be in the too distant future, according to information provided by Rutgers University-New Brunswick where engineers have invented biosensor technology, a lab on a chip, that could be used in hand-held or wearable devices to monitor your health and exposure to dangerous bacteria, viruses and pollutants.

“This is really important in the context of personalized medicine or personalized health monitoring,” said Mehdi Javanmard, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the Rutgers School of Engineering. “Our technology enables true labs on chips. We’re talking about platforms the size of a USB flash drive or something that can be integrated onto an Apple Watch, for example, or a Fitbit.”

According to the study, “Top-down fabrication meets bottom-up synthesis for nanoelectronic barcoding of microparticles,” published in the journal Lab On A Chip, continued research on biomarkers has revealed the complex nature of the molecular mechanisms behind human disease, thereby heightening the importance of testing bodily fluids for numerous biomarkers simultaneously.

“One biomarker is often insufficient to pinpoint a specific disease because of the heterogeneous nature of various types of diseases, such as heart disease, cancer and inflammatory disease,” explained Prof. Javanmard. “To get an accurate diagnosis and accurate management of various health conditions, you need to be able to analyze multiple biomarkers at the same time.”

But today, bulky optical instruments are the state-of-the-art technology for detecting and measuring biomarkers, but they’re too big to wear or add to a portable device, Prof. Javanmard, senior author of the study, noted. The new technology, which enables identification by electronically barcoding microparticles, could be used to test for health and disease indicators, bacteria and viruses, along with air and other contaminants.

The study shows that the researchers’ technique for barcoding particles is, for the first time, fully electronic, allowing biosensors to become ultra-compact instruments the size of a wearable band or a micro-chip. Prof. Javanmard said the technology is greater than 95 percent accurate in identifying biomarkers and fine-tuning is underway to make it 100 percent accurate.

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