In a recent study, scientists from Tokyo University of Science (TUS) developed a novel self-powered diaper sensor that generates the required electricity directly from urine using a biofuel cell. The proposed device can wirelessly transmit the measured glucose concentration and notify the presence of urine, helping prevent diabetes and greatly simplify patient care.
Thanks to science and modern medicine, we know a lot more now about the early signs of certain diseases and which biomarkers to check. Most importantly, we have the necessary devices and techniques to conveniently sample and analyze these biomarkers in clinical settings so that doctors, patients, and caregivers can act accordingly. In the ever-evolving field of healthcare technology, wearable electronics and biosensors are seen as potential game changers, as they allow both medical staff and non-medical people to remotely monitor relevant body variables.
In the specific case of diabetes, monitoring blood sugar levels is crucial. Fortunately, urine sugar levels provide indirect information about blood sugar levels and can be used as an alternative biomarker to avoid constantly drawing blood. Sensors can be embedded directly into their diapers, to measure urine sugar levels in elderly or long-term care patients. By wirelessly transmitting the acquired data, diaper sensors can greatly simplify caretaking and health monitoring tasks. However, both sensors and wireless transmitters require an energy source to function and putting batteries in diapers may be a questionable solution from both environmental and practical standpoints.
Scientists from TUS have worked out a solution to this problem. They have developed a promising approach to realizing self-powered diaper sensors that can generate energy directly from urine.
But how does one generate enough electricity from urine to power a sensor? The answer lies in electrochemistry. The scientists developed a paper-based biofuel cell that, through a pair of reduction-oxidation reactions, outputs electrical power proportional to the amount of glucose in the urine. Important considerations in the design of such biofuel cells are the amount of urine needed to generate enough power and the overall stability and durability of the device. With this in mind, the scientists developed a special anode, the negative terminal of an electrochemical cell, using a process known as "graft polymerization" that allowed them to firmly anchor glucose-reactive enzymes and mediator molecules to a porous carbon layer, which served as the base conductive material.
"Besides monitoring glucose in the context of diabetes, diaper sensors can be used to remotely check for the presence of urine if you stock up on sugar as fuel in advance. In hospitals or nursing care sites, where potentially hundreds of diapers have to be checked periodically, the proposed device could take a great weight off the shoulders of caregivers," commented Dr. Isao Shitanda.
In short, the sensor that Dr. Shitanda's team has engineered can not only prevent diabetes, but also make diaper management more efficient and responsive without compromising the environment. "We believe the concept developed in this study could become a very promising tool towards the general development of self-powered wearable biosensors," said Dr. Shitanda. In short, the sensor that the team has engineered can not only prevent diabetes, but also make diaper management more efficient and responsive without compromising the environment. "We believe the concept developed in this study could become a very promising tool towards the general development of self-powered wearable biosensors," he said.