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Why Sensor Technology Could be at the Heart of Future Health

Dr. Aoife Morrin believes that the “holy grail” of sensor technology lies in the ability to monitor our health through biomarkers in the skin.

Sensors have become central to many technological advancements in recent years and this is reflected in the increasing investment in space. Advances in sensors are seen in various industries, from farming for pipeline maintenance. But one of the most common real-world applications is within medical devices and healthcare research.

Dr Aoife Morrin is Director of the National Center for Sensor Research (NCSR) and Associate Professor in the Faculty of Chemical Sciences, Dublin City University (DCU). The NCSR works on many aspects of sensor platform design, with chemistry, biology, physics, and engineering laboratories working together. The center has research groups working in a variety of areas, including wireless transduction technology for implantable sensors, cell-based detection using novel luminescent probes, and 3D printing of new biomimetic materials.

Morrin’s own research group has focused on wearable sensors for health diagnostics and she said, “the holy grail in this space is being able to continuously monitor our health through biomarkers that we can access on the skin. Achieving this would allow for personalized management of chronic diseases, for example, so instead of going to a clinic once a month to take a blood sample, we could run the same test at home every day or even hourly using a wearable device that monitors biochemical changes in the skin.”

There have been many exciting advances in skin sensors in recent years. Last year, researchers found a way to print sensors on the skin without heat, potentially creating a more accurate way of taking biometric measurements than wearable devices. Earlier this year, a team from Trinity College Dublin created a graphene based sensor that could be a “significant step forward” in the area of ​​portable diagnostic devices.

But while these sensors would allow for better disease management and more effective therapies, Morrin said delivering these wearable devices is easier said than done, “even accessing these biomarkers from the skin presents a great challenge. Some researchers use microneedles, shallow needles that penetrate the skin, to access the interstitial fluid but avoid contact with the nerve endings.”

“We have taken a different approach. We are interested in the emission of gas, or volatile, that leaves the skin: the volatiles are continually released from the glands and microbes that reside on our skin and we want to understand if there are new biomarkers or disease signatures within this volatile . issue. If there are, and we believe there are, then we see exciting opportunities for new portable gas sensors that can continuously monitor this emission and provide us with information about our health. “

The field of sensor technology and research is incredibly exciting, and when potential real-life applications are presented to us, it’s easy to get carried away. However, Morrin said this enthusiasm can sometimes lead to a tendency to go overboard or make exaggerated promises when it comes to publishing research.

She said that while wearable device technology is improving all the time, there are still huge challenges to overcome in designing proper biochemical sensor interfaces, “how can we access and sample clinically relevant skin biomarkers in a robust and representative way? How can we design sensor surfaces to be highly selective for target detection? What can we do to ensure sufficient analytical sensitivity of our sensors? And how do we preserve the integrity of these sensors for continuous monitoring over extended periods of time? These are all challenges that the research community must fully address before wearable biochemical sensors can become a technology that impacts our lives.

Source: DCU Invent

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