Ultra-thin sensor helps to measure various biomarkers to perform chemical analysis on the body

Ultra-thin sensor helps to measure various biomarkers to perform chemical analysis on the body

Researchers created a special ultra-thin sensor, spun from gold, which can be attached directly to the skin without irritation or discomfort. The sensor can measure various biomarkers or substances to perform chemical analysis on the body.

It works with a technique called Raman spectroscopy, where laser light directed at the sensor changes slightly depending on the chemicals present on the skin at that time. The sensor can be fine-tuned to be extremely sensitive and is robust enough for practical use.

Portable technology is nothing new. Maybe you or someone you know has a smartwatch. Many of these can monitor certain health issues such as heart rate, but at present they cannot measure chemical signatures that may be useful for medical diagnosis.

Smartwatches or more specialized medical monitors are also relatively bulky and often quite expensive. Due to such shortcomings, a team of researchers from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Tokyo sought a new way of sensing various health conditions and environmental issues in a non-invasive and cost-effective way.

A few years ago, I came across a fascinating method of making robust extensible electronic components from another research group at the University of Tokyo. These devices are spun from ultra-fine threads coated with gold, so they can be attached to the skin without any problems as gold does not react with or irritate the skin in any way. As sensors, however, they were limited to detecting motion, and we were looking for something that could sense chemical signatures, biomarkers and drugs. So we built on this idea and created a non-invasive sensor that exceeded our expectations and inspired us to explore ways to further improve its functionality. “

Limei Liu, Visiting Researcher and Lecturer, Yangzhou University

The main component of the sensor is the fine gold mesh, as gold is unreactive, which means that when it comes in contact with a substance that the team wants to measure – for example, a potential disease biomarker found in sweat – it does not change the substance chemically. .

But instead, because the gold net is so fine, it can provide a surprisingly large area for that biomarker to bind to, and this is where the sensor’s other components come in. Because a low power laser is pointing at the gold net. , some of the laser light is absorbed and some is reflected. Most of the reflected light has the same energy as the incoming light.

However, some incoming light loses energy to the biomarker or other measurable substance, and the difference in energy between reflected and incident light is unique to the substance in question. A sensor called a spectrometer can use this unique energy fingerprint to identify the substance. This method of chemical identification is known as Raman spectroscopy.

“Currently, our sensors must be fine-tuned to detect specific substances, and we want to drive both sensitivity and specificity further in the future,” said Assistant Professor Tinghui Xiao. “With this, we believe that applications such as glucose monitoring, ideal for people with diabetes, or even virus detection, may be possible.”

“There is also potential for the sensor to work with other methods of chemical analysis in addition to Raman spectroscopy, such as electrochemical analysis, but all of these ideas require much more research,” said Professor Keisuke Goda. “In any case, I hope that this research can lead to a new generation of low-cost biosensors that can revolutionize health care and reduce the financial burden of health care.”


Journal reference:

Liu, L., et al. (2022) Highly scalable, portable surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy. Advanced optical material. doi.org/10.1002/adom.202200054

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