Researchers have created biosensor technology for wearable devices that continuously analyzes sweat or blood for different types of biomarkers such as proteins that indicate the possibility of breast cancer or lung cancer. The lab-on-a-chip could be used in handheld or wearable devices to monitor health and exposure to dangerous bacteria, viruses, and pollutants.
The technology, which involves electronically barcoding microparticles, could be used to test for health and disease indicators, bacteria and viruses, and other contaminants.
Recent work on biomarkers — indicators of health and disease such as proteins or DNA molecules — has revealed the complex nature of the molecular mechanisms behind human disease. That has heightened 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 diseases. To obtain an accurate diagnosis and accurate management of various health conditions, multiple biomarkers must be analyzed at the same time.
Well-known biomarkers include the prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a protein generated by prostate gland cells. Men with prostate cancer often have elevated PSA levels, according to the National Cancer Institute. The human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) hormone, another common biomarker, is measured in home pregnancy test kits.
Bulky optical instruments are the state-of-the-art technology for detecting and measuring biomarkers, but they are too big to wear or add to a portable device. Electronic detection of microparticles allows for ultra-compact instruments needed for wearable devices. The researchers’ technique for barcoding particles is, for the first time, fully electronic, allowing biosensors to be reduced to the size of a wearable band or a microchip.
The technology is greater than 95 percent accurate in identifying biomarkers, and fine-tuning is underway to make it 100 percent accurate. Future iterations of the technology could enable a small tool to analyze a swab sample of what’s on a doorknob, or detect influenza or other virus particles such as E. coli or salmonella. That type of tool could be commercially available within two years, and health monitoring and diagnostic tools could be available within five years.