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April 21, 2010

Plastic chips monitor body functions and Implantible Sensors

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A small blood lab that fits into the pocket of a jacket can quickly analyze the risk of blood clots in legs prior to a long distance flight; a sensor wristband for measuring electric smog can warn pacemaker patients of life-threatening exposure: "Smart plastics" can turn such tools into reality. The scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration IZM in Munich are intensely working on these topics.

The special feature of this miniscale lab-on-a-chip: the system is designed in plastic for an inexpensive production, sheets or reel-to-reel. This would facilitate cost-efficient manufacturing of disposable diagnostic systems



It is a small, high-precision manufactured single-use cartridge that acts as a tool for the biochemical analysis of a drop of blood. It consists of a polycarbonate plate measuring 3 mm by 22 mm by 70 mm, and unites two critical components in one device: the most important component - a foil of 150 micrometers thickness, on which a filigree network with conductor lines and gold sensors for blood analysis is attached, as well as a 120 micrometer deep fluid channel for conducting blood to the analysis elements. Inside the sensor chamber, the antibodies are integrated on electrodes that allow to analyze the concentration of blood clotting markers. If the number is elevated, then the risk of a thrombus - i.e. a blood clot – is forming.

But this system can be an important life companion not only for thrombosis-prone passengers on long-distance flights or stroke patients, but also for smokers, pregnant women or the obese. They will no longer have to wait days for lab results on possible clot forming in their blood. Just like glucose tests, a drop of the patient's blood suffices on the single-use cartridge the physician places then in a little hand-held scanner. Within minutes, the results appear on the display - and, if necessary, immediately apply the according measures. The EU project on the feasibility of the system runs until the middle of this year.

The sensor wristband – also engineered at IZM - is suited for the long-term monitoring of various important body functions of older patients - but also of athletes. It is like a plastic wristwatch. Instead of a clock dial, the sensor wristband is equipped with an illuminated "electroluminescent display" that indicates for example the actual body temperature at any time of the day. It also detects skin moisture, which may be a sign for the dehydration of the patient or athlete. For a person with a pacemaker the patient wristband may also signal potential danger, indicating the strength of electric or electromagnetic fields in close proximity. A number of other applications are conceivable: if needed, the most diverse array of sensors can be integrated into the polytronic platform.


2. MIT Technology Review reports on implantible electronics

Implanted under the skin, an array of light-emitting diodes could signal the concentration in the blood of biomarkers such as insulin. Over time, the array will dissolve away, eliminating the need for surgery to remove the implant. Flexible silicon electronics (inset) are held in place with a silk film. Incorporating antibodies or enzymes into the film will allow devices to detect biomarkers. Credit: Bryan Christie Design

The next generation of implantable medical devices will rely on a high-tech material forged not in the foundry but in the belly of a worm. Tufts University biomedical engineer Fiorenzo Omenetto is using silk as the basis for implantable optical and electronic devices that will act like a combination vital-sign monitor, blood test, imaging center, and pharmacy--and will safely break down when no longer needed.



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