Economic Plastic Sensors for Biosensing

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A polymer has been developed to detect metabolites and monitor a wide range of health conditions

Researchers from the University of Cambridge and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia have developed a sensor from semiconducting plastic to diagnose health conditions and surgical complications.  

Monitoring health conditions

Semiconducting plastics such as those used in this work have applications in solar cells and flexible electronics but this sensor makes their use possible in biological equipment, especially in cellular level health monitoring.

The sensor is capable of measuring the amount of critical metabolites, such as lactate or glucose, that are present in body fluids. This can allow health conditions to be monitored by incorporating the sensor into a diagnostic device.

Possible modifications suggest versatile uses

The team has used a newly-synthesised polymer that directly accepts the electrons produced during electrochemical reactions and thus, acts as a molecular wire. On contact with a liquid, the material absorbs ions and swells, eventually merging with the liquid itself. This leads to chances for higher sensitivity.

The sensors have been tested to measure levels of lactate making them a suitable option for fitness and post-surgical purposes. According to the researchers, by using the right enzyme and adjusting the concentration range, the sensor can be modified for other metabolites.

Despite their size, the sensors can be used to amplify signals and to respond to small changes in metabolite concentration by integrating them into complex circuits such as transistors. On combining with models of human organs, they can also help in testing the toxicity of drugs.

The lack of metals such as gold or platinum allows the sensor to be manufactured at a lower cost. Researchers have also proposed implementations in wearable sensing by incorporations in flexible and stretchable substrates.