Engineers have developed a new sensor that could inexpensively test for glucose levels in the exhaled breaths of diabetics or indicators for breast cancer using saliva.
University of Florida engineers developed the tiny sensor, which can be used to test for a number of conditions and can be manufactured cheaply using the same technology that's used to manufacture the processors in mobile phones and computers.
Published in this month’s edition of IEEE Sensors Journal, the team's report notes that the sensor can be integrated in a wireless system to relay findings to health care workers.
Better still, it's non-invasive -- meaning diabetics can do away with the finger pricks necessary to test blood glucose levels.
Previously, glucose levels in the breath were deemed too small for accurate assessment. But the new sensor uses a semiconductor that amplifies the signals to readable levels.
The sensor can also detect pH or alkalinity levels in the breath, valuable for identifying and treating asthma attacks. It's also been used to test for indicators of breast cancer in saliva and pathogens in water.
The sensor is just 100 microns, or 100 millionths of a meter, in size, allowing for it to get a reading in less than five seconds.
It works by pairing different reactive substances with the semiconductor gallium nitride, which is commonly used in amplifiers in cell phones and power grid transmission equipment.
In the glucose example, the reactive molecules are composed of zinc oxide nanorods that bind with glucose enzymes.
The sensor is not as accurate as one that uses nanotechnology, but it's far less costly to manufacture. As a wireless monitor package, it could cost $40 or less, the researchers said.
The research team included chemistry professor Fan Ren, materials science and engineering professor Steve Pearton, chemical engineering professor Tanmay Lele, electrical and computing engineering professor Jenshan Lin, electrical and computer engineer Wenhsing Wu and several graduate students.