Diagnosing blood glucose could become easier with high-tech inks

Researchers
filled ordinary ball pens with special bio-inks that react with several
chemicals including glucose. By simply drawing on the skin the ink can accurately
detect blood glucose levels. A new simple tool developed by Nanoengineers at
the University of California, San Diego, is opening the door to an era when
anyone will be able to build sensors, anywhere, including physicians in the
clinic, patients in their home and soldiers in the field. The team from the
University of California, San Diego, developed high-tech bio-inks that react
with several chemicals, including glucose. They filled off-the-shelf ballpoint
pens with the inks and were able to draw sensors to measure glucose directly on
the skin and sensors to measure pollution on leaves.
Researchers
drew sensors capable of detecting pollutants on a leaf.

The
sensors also work directly on the skin to, for example, detect glucose.

Skin
and leaves aren’t the only media on which the pens could be used. Researchers
envision sensors drawn directly on smart phones for personalized and
inexpensive health monitoring or on external building walls for monitoring of
toxic gas pollutants. The sensors also could be used on the battlefield to
detect explosives and nerve agents. The team, led by Joseph Wang published
their findings in Advanced Healthcare Materials. “Our new biocatalytic pen
technology, based on novel enzymatic inks, holds considerable promise for a
broad range of applications on site and in the field,” Wang said.

The
biggest challenge they faced was making inks from chemicals and biochemicals
that aren’t harmful to humans or plants; could function as the sensors’
electrodes; and retain their properties over long periods in storage and in
various conditions. Researchers turned to biocompatible polyethylene glycol,
which is used in several drug delivery applications, as a binder. To make the
inks conductive to electric current they used graphite powder. They also added
chitosan, an antibacterial agent which is used in bandages to reduce bleeding,
to make sure the ink adhered to any surfaces it was used on. The inks’ recipe
also includes xylitol, a sugar substitute, which helps stabilize enzymes that
react with several chemicals the do-it-yourself sensors are designed to
monitor.

Wang’s
team has been investigating how to make glucose testing for diabetics easier
for several years. The same team of engineers recently developed non-invasive
glucose sensors in the form of temporary tattoos. In this study, they used
pens, loaded with an ink that reacts to glucose, to draw reusable
glucose-measuring sensors on a pattern printed on a transparent, flexible
material which includes an electrode. Researchers then pricked a subject’s
finger and put the blood sample on the sensor. The enzymatic ink reacted with
glucose and the electrode recorded the measurement, which was transmitted to a
glucose-measuring device. Researchers then wiped the pattern clean and drew on
it again to take another measurement after the subject had eaten. Researchers
estimate that one pen contains enough ink to draw the equivalent of 500
highfidelity glucose sensor strips. Nanoengineers also demonstrated that the
sensors could be drawn directly on the skin and that they could communicate
with a Bluetooth-enabled device to gather data.

The
pens would also allow users to draw sensors that detect pollutants and
potentially harmful chemicals sensors on the spot. Researchers demonstrated
that this was possible by drawing a sensor on a leaf with an ink loaded with
enzymes that react with phenol, an industrial chemical, which can also be found
in cosmetics, including sunscreen. The leaf was then dipped in a solution of
water and phenol and the sensor was connected to a pollution detector. The
sensors could be modified to react with many pollutants, including heavy metals
or pesticides.

Next
steps include connecting the sensors wirelessly to monitoring devices and
investigating how the sensors perform in difficult conditions, including
extreme temperatures, varying humidity and extended exposure to sunlight. “Biocompatible
Enzymatic Roller Pens for Direct Writing of Biocatalytic Materials:
‘Do-it-yourself’ Electrochemical Biosensors” is authored by Amay J. Bandodkar,
Wenzhao Jia, Julian Ramirez and Wang.

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