Imagine a long term patient monitoring system that hardly needs maintenance, functions with regular updates and a degree of flexibility that doesn’t leave the patient strapped to his bed the entire time. That’s exactly what researchers recently developed using nanotechnology-a silver nanowire sensor that overcomes the deficiencies of previous traditional technology with the potential to significantly improve long-term monitoring of a patient’s health.
Electrocardiograms (EKG) and Electroencephalograms (EEG) comprise some of the traditional technology used in long term patient monitoring. Despite their sophistication in keeping healthcare workers updated about a patient’s vitals, the drawback with this existing technology is the method in which information is obtained-using electrolytic gel. These sensors are known as wet sensors because of their requirement for the gel, which needs to be regularly replaced for the devices to function effectively. If the gel dries out, not only does it cause discomfort to the patient, but it can also skew the sensor readings. Also, these sensors don’t allow patients to move around much, keeping them confined to the bed.
The most prominent advantage of this silver nanowire sensor is that it is a dry sensor, with no requirement of an electrolytic gel. With the difficulties associated with regular reapplication of gels out of the picture, the silver nanowire sensor can be used for hassle free long term patient monitoring. The sensor also has signal quality that is as good as an EEG or EKG, a factor that keeps its readings accurate. And while the EEG and EKG are associated with a bunch of wires and general bulkiness, the silver nanowire sensor is a small device that can be placed on the wrist and fastened securely by a band-allowing the patient using it to be mobile. Its small size, dryness and signal quality make it a more accurate and effective electrophysiological sensor as compared to other existing technology.
Similarly, researchers are taking long strides in nanotechnology-based sensors to improve other aspects of healthcare. For instance, the non-invasive blood monitoring sensor for diabetics resembles a stick-on tattoo. There are tiny electrodes present in the sensor that measure blood sugar levels, proteins, amount of prescription drugs in the system, metabolites, alcohol and illegal substances. This constant monitoring can save many lives and keep healthcare workers up to speed.
Another recently developed sensor is one that can be fitted onto a smartphone and sniff out cancer. It was developed as an early cancer detection method to help people test themselves. In a bid to help people diagnose themselves early enough for successful treatment, this nano-sensor uses a breath analyzer to detect lung cancer.
With advancements the world over, we are entering a future where healthcare can be more predictive and accurate with the aid of nanotechnology. What are your thoughts on the effectiveness of nanotech sensors in healthcare? Please share your thoughts in the section below.