Wearable Three-in-One Microneedle Sensor Tracks Glucose, Alcohol, and Lactate Levels Simultaneously

Designed in two halves so the electronics can be reused, this compact device replaces three dedicated sensors with a coin-size package.

Researchers at the University of California San Diego's Center for Wearable Sensors have developed a multi-functional device, which can pick up its user's glucose, alcohol, and lactate levels simultaneously — providing readings in real-time.

"This is like a complete lab on the skin," boasts center director Joseph Wang, professor of nanoengineering and co-corresponding author of the paper detailing the breakthrough. "It is capable of continuously measuring multiple biomarkers at the same time, allowing users to monitor their health and wellness as they perform their daily activities."

This compact wearable tracks alcohol, glucose, and lactate levels simultaneously, transmitting data to a nearby phone. (📹: Tehrani et al)

The team's creation takes the form of a microneedle patch with integrated electronics. The microneedles' tips are treated with different enzymes — some reacting with glucose, some with alcohol, and still more with lactate — which react with interstitial fluid and in doing so generate enough of an electrical current to be read by the electronics and transmitted to a nearby smartphone for analysis.

"With our wearable, people can see the interplay between their glucose spikes or dips with their diet, exercise, and drinking of alcoholic beverages," explains co-first author Farshad Tehrani. "That could add to their quality of life as well."

The electronics package, housed in a small casing, is designed for reuse; the microneedle patch detaches after use for disposal and quick replacement, allowing for near-continuous monitoring. In testing with five subjects, the wearable matched the performance of commercial single-sensing devices tailored to each of the three substances specifically — but, it must be noted, the testing was based only on using the new wearable to measure glucose levels alongside alcohol or lactate, not all three at the same time.

The team's work has been published under closed-access terms in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering; the next stage fr the project, the authors have confirmed, include testing how long the microneedle patch can go before it must be replaced and increasing the number of sensors present on the device.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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