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Health-monitoring mouth guard wirelessly links to smartphone

02 Sep 2015

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The patient also took Allopurinol, which had been prescribed by a physician to treat their condition. Researchers were able to document a drop in the levels of uric acid over four or five days as the medication took effect. In the past, the patient would have needed blood draws to monitor levels and relied instead on symptoms to start and stop his medication.

Fabrication and design

Wang's team created a screen-printed sensor using silver, Prussian blue ink and uricase, an enzyme that reacts with uric acid. Because saliva is extremely complex and contains many different biomarkers, researchers needed to make sure that the sensors only reacted with the uric acid. Nanoengineers set up the chemical equivalent of a two-step authentication system. The first step is a series of chemical keyholes, which ensures that only the smallest biochemicals get inside the sensor. The second step is a layer of uricase trapped in polymers, which reacts selectively with uric acid. The reaction between acid and enzyme generates hydrogen peroxide, which is detected by the Prussian blue ink. That information is then transmitted to an electronic board as electrical signals via metallic strips that are part of the sensor.

The electronic board, developed by Mercier's team, uses small chips that sense the output of the sensors, digitises this output and then wirelessly transmits data to a smartphone, tablet or laptop. The entire electronic board occupies an area slightly larger than a U.S. penny.

Next steps

The next step is to embed all the electronics inside the mouth guard so that it can actually be worn. Researchers also will have to test the materials used for the sensors and electronics to make sure that they are indeed completely biocompatible. The next iteration of the mouth guard is about a year out, Mercier estimates.

"All the components are there," he said. "It's just a matter of refining the device and working on its stability."

Wang and Mercier lead the Centre for Wearable Sensors at UC San Diego, which has made a series of breakthroughs in the field, including temporary tattoos that monitor glucose, ultra-miniaturised energy-processing chips and pens filled with high-tech inks for do-it-yourself chemical sensors.

"UC San Diego has become a leader in the field of wearable sensors," said Mercier.


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