New Sensor Monitors Behavior of Alcoholics

Tuesday, 17 April, 2018 - 05:15
London - Asharq Al-Awsat

Scientists have developed a miniature, ultra-low power injectable biosensor that could be used for continuous, long-term alcohol monitoring.

The device is powered wirelessly by a wearable device, such as a smartwatch, the German News Agency reported.

Drew Hall, an electrical engineering professor at the University of California, San Diego, said: “The ultimate goal of this work is to develop a routine, unobtrusive alcohol and drug monitoring device for patients in substance abuse treatment programs."

One of the challenges for patients in treatment programs is the lack of convenient tools for routine monitoring. Breathalyzers, currently the most common way to estimate blood alcohol levels, are clunky devices that require patient initiation and are not that accurate.

A blood test is the most accurate method, but it needs to be performed by a trained technician, Hall said.

Tattoo-based alcohol sensors that can be worn on the skin are a promising new alternative, but they can be easily removed and are only single-use.

"A tiny injectable sensor that can be administered in a clinic without surgery could make it easier for patients to follow a prescribed course of monitoring for extended periods of time," Hall said.

The biosensor chip measures roughly one cubic millimeter in size and can be injected under the skin in the fluid that surrounds the body's cells. It contains a sensor that is coated with alcohol oxidase, an enzyme that selectively interacts with alcohol to generate a byproduct that can be electro-chemically detected. The electrical signals are transmitted wirelessly to a nearby wearable device such as a smartwatch, or mobile devices.

The researchers designed the chip to consume a maximum power of 970 nanowatts, which is roughly one million times less power than a smartphone consumes when making a phone call.

The Phys.org website cited Hall as saying: “We don't want the chip to have a significant impact on the battery life of the wearable device. And, we don't want a lot of heat being locally generated inside the body or a battery that is potentially toxic."

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