People with diabetes most commonly monitor their disease with glucose meters that require constant fingerpricking. Continuous glucose monitoring systems are an alternative but they are not cost-effective. Researchers have been working to develop wearable, flexible electronics that can conform to patients’ skin and monitor the glucose in body fluids such as sweat. To build such sensors, manufacturers have used traditional manufacturing strategies such as photolithography or screen printing. While these methods work, they have several drawbacks including requiring the use of harmful chemicals and expensive cleanroom processing. They also create a lot of waste.
To solve this problem, a 3D-printed glucose biosensor for use in wearable monitors has been created using 3D printing. The glucose monitor offers much better stability and sensitivity than those manufactured through traditional methods.
The method used is called direct-inkwriting (DIW) that involves printing “inks” out of nozzles to create intricate and precise designs at tiny scales. A nanoscale material was printed out that is electrically conductive to create flexible electrodes. The technique allows a precise application of the material, resulting in a uniform surface and fewer defects, which increases the sensor’s sensitivity. The 3D-printed sensors were better at picking up glucose signals than the traditionally produced electrodes.
Because it uses 3D printing, the system is also more customizable for the variety of people’s biology, enabling the sensors to be tailored specifically to individual patients. Because 3D printing uses only the amount of material needed, there is also less waste in the process than traditional manufacturing methods.
For large-scale use, the printed biosensors will need to be integrated with electronic components on a wearable platform. But manufacturers could use the same 3D printer nozzles used for printing the sensors to print electronics and other components of a wearable medical device, helping to consolidate manufacturing processes and reduce costs even more.