A team led by an indian-origin scientist has developed an implantable sensor that runs on sugar, and can monitor the body's biological signals to detect, prevent and diagnose diseases.
The sensor developed by Subhanshu Gupta, an assistant professor at the Washington University in the US, and colleagues uses a biofuel cell and harvests glucose from body fluids to run.
The sensor, described in IEEE Transactions of Circuits and Systems journal, has a unique integration of the biofuel cell with electronics to process physiological and biochemical signals with high sensitivity.
Many popular sensors for disease detection are either watches, which need to be recharged, or patches that are worn on the skin, which are superficial and can't be embedded, researchers said.
The sensor developed by the team could also remove the need to prick a finger for testing of certain diseases, such as diabetes.
"The human body carries a lot of fuel in its bodily fluids through blood glucose or lactate around the skin and mouth," said Gupta.
"Using a biofuel cell opens the door to using the body as potential fuel," he said.
The electronics in the sensor use state-of-the-art design and fabrication to consume only a few microwatts of power while being highly sensitive.
Coupling these electronics with the biofuel cell makes it more efficient than traditional battery-powered devices, said Gupta.
Since it relies on body glucose, the sensor's electronics can be powered indefinitely. So, for instance, the sensor could run on sugar produced just under the skin, researchers said.
Unlike commonly used lithium-ion batteries, the biofuel cell is also completely non-toxic, making it more promising as an implant for people, he said.
It is also more stable and sensitive than conventional biofuel cells.
The researchers say their sensor could be manufactured cheaply through mass production, by leveraging economies of scale.
While the sensors have been tested in the lab, the researchers are hoping to test and demonstrate them in blood capillaries, which will require regulatory approval.
The researchers are also working on further improving and increasing the power output of their biofuel cell.
"This brings together the technology for making a biofuel cell with our sophisticated electronics. It is a very good marriage that could work for many future applications," said Gupta.