The latest Physics World is running an illuminating article by Chris Lowe and Cynthia Larbey that takes a look at the emerging science of hologram-based sensor technology. Thought to give some serious offerings to a variety of diagnostic and therapeutic applications, this novel sensor technology is already being implemented in the upcoming products for the medical market.
Traditional holograms, like those on your credit card, are stored on photo-sensitive materials and remain unchanged with time. Smart holograms, however, use materials called hydrogels that shrink or swell in response to local environmental conditions. Such holograms can therefore be used as sensors to detect chemical imbalances in potentially fatal situations.
Smart Holograms, a spin-out company from the Institute of Biotechnology at Cambridge University, has already developed a hand-held syringe to measure water content in aviation fuel tanks – necessary because aeroplane engines are liable to freeze mid-air if there is more than 30 parts water to million fuel.
The same ability to detect chemical imbalances could be used by diabetics to check their blood-sugar levels; by patients with kidney disorders to check on adrenaline levels; by security forces to detect chemicals like anthrax after a terrorist attack; or, less urgently but with wide applicability, by glazing firms to detect whether water has crept in between window panes, something that can cause long-term structural damage.
Here’s how Smart Holograms envisions its technology in healthcare:
Smart’s next-generation sensors offer an ideal solution for the in-vitro diagnostics market. The key benefit is that the nature of the reactive holograms removes the need for regular product calibration. Diagnostic analysis is continuous, accurate and real-time.
In the case of glucose monitoring for diabetic patients, Smart is paving the way for two highly unique products for use in critical care and self-testing environments, where responsible disease management is crucial for an improved quality of life.
Current practice advises regular monitoring of patients’ glucose and insulin levels to reduce the length of stay in the intensive care unit and improve mortality rates.
The reality is up to fifteen tests every day carried out manually by nursing staff, resulting in spiralling costs for hospital trusts and additional discomfort for the patient.
Smart is developing a tailor-made product designed to remove the need for regular tests. The catheter and fibre-optic reader based sensor will be easy for hospital staff to use and detects and alerts them to changes in glucose levels.
The primary method of self-testing is blood sampling, using a finger-prick method and analysis on enzyme based strips. The samples have to be taken regularly causing some pain and inconvenience to the patient.
Smart’s product will eradicate the need for patient intervention by providing a device worn continuously which monitors glucose levels. The sensor hologram will be embedded in the device and as it senses changes in the bloodstream, it transmits the results instantly to a reader.