Researchers at the Tufts University Biomedical Engineering Department in Medford, Massachusetts developed a two-square millimeter-sized sensor, fastened on a tooth to monitor and transmit data on glucose, salt, and alcohol.
The moment anything edible and potable enters the mouth, the chemical sensor and Radio Frequency ID read the analytes and the device sends the data via mobile phone over a wireless connection.
This cutting-edge device and microchip look-alike abridged the gap in today’s healthcare demand for practical and accurate nutrition monitoring on a number of debilitating diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, and even alcoholism. This device is expected to revolutionize today’s health management and diet patterns.
Frank Doble, study author from Tuft University stressed that “managing and interpreting the data that this device provides can ultimately lead to the identification of patterns of consumption that could have an impact on diet regimens, health management, and maybe make us more aware our nutritional intake.”
The device targets specific analytes at the moment. This includes samples that monitor the state of wellbeing, such as fatigue, through the saliva and dental health. Theoretically, other health parameters can also be measured. The sensor is a versatile device and can measure the chemical composition of sweat, body temperature, among others.
The research, which will appear in a journal, Advanced Materials, noted that broad adaptations of the sensor could lead to detection and recording of other nutrients, chemicals, and physiological states.
The miniaturized sensor has three parts -- the outer parts have square rings made of titanium and gold. The middle part is made of either silk-fiber or water-based gel and contains the "bioresponsive" layer, or the sponge that absorbs the nutrients and chemicals from the food ingested.
The research explained these three parts act as an antenna, gathering and transmitting the waves in the radiofrequency spectrum. The waves hit the sensor and transmit back.
The nutrients and analytes are detected and analyzed at the "bioresponsive" layer. This part will change hue and will shift its electrical properties if the mouth ingests say, salt-containing or ethanol-containing food. This will cause the sensor to absorb and transmit a spectrum of waves from its antenna to the user’s phone.
Moreover, the sensor is user-friendly and flexible. Researchers ensured that it does not have bulky wires or would require regular replacements. It also fits perfectly on the uneven surfaces of the tooth.
The sensor surpassed expectations when compared to precedent wearable devices available in the market which are quite cumbersome. Some devices for monitoring dietary intake have sensors that easily degrade, thus, entail frequent replacement. Meanwhile, others have thick wires and require wearing a mouth guard.
Relevance of the Sensor
In reality, doctors cannot simply go inside a person’s body to see for themselves what’s happening inside. However, a miniature sensor can probably change all that.
"In theory, we can modify the bioresponsive layer in these sensors to target other chemicals - we are really limited only by our creativity," said Doble. "We have extended common RFID technology to a sensor package that can dynamically read and transmit information on its environment, whether it is affixed to a tooth, to skin, or any other surface,” he added.
The sensor acts like the “eyes and ears” inside the mouth, mounted on a tooth not only to gather data but also to communicate that data. The researchers believe that the device could remarkably make a difference in the management of nutritional inputs, which in turn can improve a person’s health and diet outcomes.
As A Fitness Wearable
The sensor can also account for the amount of food taken and the calories that go with it. This revelation is very promising to the fitness monitoring frontier.
The initial phase of the experiment involved tests with known solutions to prove that the sensors work.
In a scaled-down experiment, four volunteers wore the sensors with the silk-made bioresponsive layer installed on their tooth. These volunteers gargled liquids which were either sweet or bitter, to check if the monitor will work. The researchers were looking specifically for sugar and alcohol. As expected, the sensors transmitted signals to mobile and tablet devices. With water-based gel in the bioresponsive layer, on the other hand, the signals sent a different range of acidity and temperatures.
Their experiment also showed that the sensor can distinguish between solutions. They tested the chip on purified water, saliva, wood alcohol and 50 percent alcohol. It also showed differences in the concentration of glucose.
“In idea we will be able to regulate the bioresponsive layer in those sensors to focus on different chemical substances –- we’re truly restricted best via our creativity,” Fiorenzo Omenetto, Ph.D, co-author explained.
The sensor may not be available yet and the cost is still in the clouds. But the researchers hope that this technology would be accessible for people with the dire need to keep accurate logs of their diet and alcohol consumption.