Long-term monitoring of cancer and diabetes possible with an implantable sensor

A new sensor has been invented that can be implanted under the skin to detect swelling and presence of nitric oxide (NO), a natural gas found at higher amount in the blood of many cancer patients. The study has been published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

According to the scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), these sensors are able to monitor several other molecules, including glucose, as they comprise of carbon nanotubes. In this way, the implantable sensor can examine both diabetes and cancer.

Nitric oxide is an essential signaling molecule that relays messages between the brain and immune system. Although the mechanism remains unexplained, the quantity of NO is abnormal in the cancerous cells. These sensors, which are actually 1-nanometer thick hollow cylinders made of carbon, have been developed by Professor Michael Strano and postdoctoral fellow Nicole Iverson of MIT. The efficiency of the sensors can be attributed to a natural fluorescence present in the carbon that glows or dims when the molecules attaches to a particular target.

The research team has laterally conducted another study in which they have shown the ability of the tubes enclosed in DNA with a sequence to monitor NO.

In order to monitor the conditions, a sensor should be inserted into the bloodstream for short-term assessment. Polyethylene glycol (PEG) was attached to the sensor for preventing the aggregation of the particles in the blood. The carbon nanotubes can pass through the lungs and heart and settle in the liver for recording the level of NO. The DNA-encased sensor on the other hand is made up of a gel from alginate found in algae that can last longer in the body. In fact, these sensors are functional for 400 days without causing any damage to the internal organs.

Inflammatory disorders can also be easily detected by these implantable sensors. The medical tool could come as a relief for patients who carry implanted devices or have artificial body parts. A near-infrared fluorescent signal generated by a laser can be thrown on the body to spot the sensors. The data can then be transmitted to another apparatus that clearly recognizes the fluorescence-producing regions on the body.

Currently, the research team is modifying the device by enclosing it in several types of molecules. The carbon nanotubes can play a critical role in eradicating diabetes in the near future if they are able to diagnose the quantity of blood glucose.

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