Eating too much salt is not healthy for people suffering from hypertension. It not only raises their blood pressure but also puts them at greater risk of cardiac complications. As there is hardly any way to monitor the daily salt intake for such patients, they end up in consuming more sodium than their heart can handle. However, now technology has come to the rescue of such patients.
To monitor the real-time, daily salt intake, researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology has come up with a flexible and wearable oral sodium sensor. The system is designed to be comfortably worn in mouth and measures the amount of sodium that a person consumes.
Making and testing of oral sodium sensor
The system is based on an ultrathin, breathable elastomeric membrane and is integrated with a flexible electronics system. To report the sodium consumption, it uses Bluetooth technology to transmit data to a smartphone or tablet. To make this oral wearable sensor, researchers replaced the traditional plastic and metal-based electronics with biocompatible and ultrathin components which are connected using mesh circuitry.
Their design began its journey with computer modelling for optimization of mechanical properties of the device for use in the curved and soft oral cavity. After that, they used the model to design their actual nanomembrane and choose components. The device can monitor real-time sodium intake as well as can record the daily amount. Using an app, the system will advise the users to plan their meals according to the amount of sodium they have already consumed. The device offers a connectivity range up to ten meters.
The device was tested on three individuals participating in the study who wore the sensor system for a week while eating both solid and liquid food including vegetables, juices, chicken and potato chips. Sodium sensors are available commercially in the market but this sensor is a flexible micro-membrane version which is integrated with miniaturized hybrid circuitry.
Future work and prospects
The system now resembles a dental retainer which researchers plan to further miniaturize to the size of a tooth. They are also working on removing the small battery that needs to be recharged daily to keep the sensor in operation. One option for this could be to give power to the device inductively. As a long-term goal, the researchers look forward to create an artificial taste system that can sense sweetness, bitterness, pH and saltiness.
All these discoveries towards healthcare that we see at various institutes like the synthetic skin developed by the University of Glasgow are not only helping in the advancement of medical science but are also aiding to next generation of humanoid robots which are more similar to humans in the biological sense.