Engineers Create A Tiny Wireless Injectable Biosensor

An injectable biosensor chip smaller than a 10 gauge needle. (Photo credit: University of California San Diego)

What if you could inject a biosensor into the fluid in your skin that can monitor alcohol or other substances and control it with your smartwatch or other wearable?

Engineers at the University of California San Diego along with a start up in the Qualcomm Innovation Institute are working on a prototype that can do just that.

Less than the size of a 10 gauge needle, this wireless biosensor chip can be injected into the fluid surrounding the cells in your body. The biosensor was designed to be a low power as possible, around 970 nanowatts, which is about one million times less power than your smartphone uses when you make a phone call.

Drew Hall, project lead and an electrical engineer at the University of California San Diego said they didn’t want the chip to have a significant impact on the battery life of the wearable device.

“Since we’re implanting this, we don’t want a lot of heat being locally generated inside the body or a battery that is potentially toxic,” added Hall.

According to Hall, one of the challenges for patients in treatment programs is the lack of convenient tools for routine monitoring.

“Breathalyzers, currently the most common way to estimate blood alcohol levels, are clunky devices that require patient initiation and are not that accurate, Hall noted. A blood test is the most accurate method, but it needs to be performed by a trained technician,” said Hall. ” Tattoo-based alcohol sensors that can be worn on the skin are a promising new alternative, but they can be easily removed and are only single-use.”

“A tiny injectable sensor that can be administered in a clinic without surgery could make it easier for patients to follow a prescribed course of monitoring for extended periods of time,” adds Hall.

The biosensor is a proof-of-concept platform technology but the researchers, in collaboration with CARI Therapeutics, a start up in Qualcomm’s Institute Innovation space at the University, envision creating additional biosensors that can detect different substances of abuse and through the injection of a customized cocktail into a patient to provide long-term, personalized medical monitoring,” added Hall.

The development of the biosensor was partially supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and Samsung.

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