Imagine a tiny, implantable sensor that can directly monitor levels of blood sugar, oxygen, lactate, and other vital elements of body chemistry in real time, then transmit the data to your doctor via cell phone.
A California-based company called Profusa has developed a biosensor smaller than a grain of rice that can perform such functions, measuring levels of various substances in the body. The information is then passed along via an optical scanner held to the skin.
“I think our sensors will revolutionize medicine,” declares Natalie Wisniewski, Profusa’s co-founder and chief technical officer. “They produce a continuous stream of data that gives us insight into the biochemical fluctuations that reflect our health.”
The technology, which was presented at an annual meeting of the American Chemical Society on March 19, gives promise to a brave new world of digital medicine. For instance:
Diabetics can use it to receive instant and painless blood sugar readings, eliminating the need for needle sticks and making life easier for diabetics.
Athletes will be able to monitor oxygen levels to optimize their workouts.
In the arena of battlefield medicine, the biosensors could help medics determine which wounded military personnel to treat first.
And that’s just scratching the surface of the biosensors’ potential.
One version of the biosensor has already been approved in Europe. Called the Lumee Oxygen Platform, it measures tissue oxygen levels in damaged areas due to peripheral artery disease, chronic wounds or reconstructive surgery. Continuous monitoring of oxygen levels in the affected tissue can help manage the type of blood flow problems that can sometimes result in amputation.
Profusa’s scientists are working on a host of other applications for diabetes and other conditions while seeking approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for their devices.
“Having a simple, real-time way to measure glucose is very powerful information in helping people manage their diabetes,” Wisniewski tells Newsmax Health. “But for other kinds of chronic diseases, the science is not there yet because we’ve never had this tool. Much more research is needed to take the amount of data we’re going to be able to produce and extract meaningful conclusions from it.”
One thing that sets Profusa’s products apart from other implantable sensors is that they become integrated with tissue and thus fly under the radar of the foreign-body reaction, which tries to kill, purge or isolate any foreign material.
“The core technological difference is that our sensors are very soft and tissue-like, whereas most conventional sensors are hard metal or plastic that the body reacts strongly against,” explains Wisniewski, who has a doctorate in biomedical engineering. “There are no sensors out there that, through a single little injection, can last for years.”
Profusa’s biosensors are made from a hydrogel polymer similar to the material used in soft contact lenses. Implanted through a syringe, they are structured like scaffolding, which encourages body tissue to grow right through them. Meanwhile, that scaffolding is infused with dye molecules that react to the different substances in blood and tissue, producing a fluorescent glow that is read by a near-infrared light scanner.
No one is sure how long the biosensors will last. Some of those used in a preliminary study started four years ago are still working, according to Wisniewski.
“They won’t last forever because the dye molecules undergo photo-bleaching, which is the same process that will fade the colors of clothes when they are left in the sun,” she explains. “As the dye fades, it emits a weaker optical signal, which eventually becomes too weak to read.”
Right now, each biosensor can measure just one type of substance. But “multiplexes” that can read several are in the works. And Wisniewski is certain that someday in the not-to-distant future, these types of sensors will be able to instantly and continuously measure all vital aspects of body chemistry. Along with helping to manage existing diseases, they could also identify health problems in their earliest, most treatable stages.
“Having a continuous stream of data allows us to first determine our own baseline, and then if something gets out of whack, we can check it out,” says Wisniewski. “Currently, we wait until someone doesn’t feel well and then address the problem. By that time it may be more difficult or impossible to treat whatever condition caused the changes.”
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