Interesting news, with sketchy details, from the University of Arkansas. Vijay Varadan, a professor of electrical engineering, has developed a wireless, implantable biosensor that may one day help physicians treat patients with neurological disorders. The novel sensor, composed of carbon nanotubes, is designed to monitor and control chemicals in the brain and communicate with other sensors for such functions as control of tremors or direct control of the movement of prosthetic limbs:
Once inside the body, the chips perform several functions. They sense and monitor the release of essential chemicals produced by the brain, including dopamine. Otherwise known as a neurotransmitter, dopamine is a chemical that facilitates communication between neurons in the brain. A specialized set of neurons in the substantia nigra section of the brain are the source of chemical activity that controls normal movements of the body.
When neurons in the substantia nigra degenerate, there is a loss of dopamine. This loss of dopamine causes nerve cells to fire excessively, making it impossible for Parkinson’s patients to control their movements. The loss of motor control is manifested in tremors or trembling hands, two of the primary symptoms of Parkinson’s.
Varadan’s carbon biosensor records the loss of dopamine and stimulates activity between neurons and neurites, which are immature, developing neurons. In addition to sensing the release of chemicals and contributing to the growth of healthy, dopamine-producing neurons, the biosensor communicates with an organic, polymer-based sensor attached to an area of the body in which a tremor occurs. The signal from the implanted sensor can control and direct the motion of the area of the body on which the exterior sensor is attached.
“This exterior sensor can be easily placed under a wrist watch,” Varadan said. “Essentially, the implanted, carbon-based sensor detects the sensor attached to the watch, controls the trembling and tells the hand where to go.”
This same process could work for people who have prosthetic limbs, Varadan said. With the polymer-based sensor attached to a prosthetic arm, for example, a signal from the implanted biochip could direct movement and motion of the artificial arm.
The wireless technology has many applications. The location of Alzheimer’s patients or any person wearing the exterior sensor could be continuously monitored by inserting the carbon-based sensor in an electronics device, such as a cell phone or computer connected to the Internet.
The biosensor can measure glucose levels from the skin’s surface, which would eliminate the need to obtain a blood sample by lancing the skin. It also could help doctors and diabetes patients control delivery of insulin. Furthermore, the sensor could monitor and control chemicals that precipitate a stroke or epileptic seizure. Varadan said the chip also can control the release of medication, which could clean arteries and prevent an aneurism or heart attack.
Paint us sceptical: A sensor that seems to measure and regulate every physiologic function known to man (and woman). What we want to know is how it functions.
The press release…