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Could smartphones be used as glucose monitors?

  • April 23, 2024
  • 3 min read
Could smartphones be used as glucose monitors?

The past few years have seen a surge in research using smartphones as patient handheld medical devices. The latest of these uses the in build compass to analyse biomarkers in a number of liquids. This has huge potential in the analysis of bodily fluids — blood, sweat, urine, or saliva — to monitor or diagnose disease.

Researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Boulder, Colorado, are hoping this technology will provide a path towards portable, inexpensive sensing of multiple biomarkers of interest using only the power required to operate the smartphone.

Wearable technology is now common place and many people routinely track various bodily functions from food intake to menstrual cycle. The hardware itself is equipped with sensing technology, to record yet more personalised data, using accelerometers for movement and optics for heart rate. Both of which can be used in conjunction to analyse sleep quality. A new AI-powered app can use a smartphone camera to detect skin cancer, while other apps administer cognitive tests to detect dementia. Even individual DNA molecules can be seen with inexpensive optical attachments that transform regular smartphones into microscopes.

Smartphone compasses, knows as magnetometers, are designed to detect the earth magnetic fields. However, they are also capable of responding to small, nearby magnets and changes in those magnets’ positions.

The researches embedded magnets into a small strip of hydrogel. This “smart” material is designed to expand or contract in response to various substances when immersed in a solution. For example, it may expand when the solution is acidic or contract when it’s basic, moving the magnet closer or farther from the phone’s magnetometer, providing an indicator of pH. This can be used to monitor glucose by designing the hydrogel to expand or contract depending on the concentration of sugar in the solution.

When tested on champagne, sangria and pino grigio, this technology was capable of detecting micromolar glucose concentrations on par or better than conventional continuous glucose monitors. Accurate pH levels of orange juice, root beer and coffee were also achieved.

The team at NIST next plan tests on more complex biological molecules, such as blood. Other compounds may be present and affect the results.

“It may be that you need to tweak the chemistry of the hydrogel to make sure it is really specific to one biomolecule and there is no interference from other biomolecules,” said Gary Zabow, PhD, a group leader in the applied physics division at NIST who supervised the research.

The potential impact of patient handheld medical devices is immense. If this technology can be adapted to check for a range of biomarkers it can revolutionise the healthcare system. It also has huge potential in our fight to save the environment by detecting chemical contaminants in tap, lake, or stream water.

About Author

Natalie Shanahan

Natalie Shanahan has a BSc in Genetics and a MSc in Bioinformatics. She worked as a lecturer, teaching genetics and biochemistry, before moving to Australia to work for their first Bioinformatics company. Here she managed their marketing as well as working on their numerous educational resources. Natalie left her career in science to follow her passion and now works as a personal trainer and nutrition consultant, helping individuals and employees of large organisations, better understand their health and wellbeing.

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