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Nanomaterials April 2016 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Marianne Monteforte

Flexible Skin Patches for Diabetes Detection

Why is this topic significant?

Scientists are continually developing innovative applications for graphene to extend its use into a range of industries including digital health. Recent research reveals a graphene-based flexible patch that is capable of passively monitoring diabetes and automatically triggering treatment.

Description

Korean researchers at the Institute for Basic Science in Seoul are developing a graphene patch—equipped with microneedles capped with a tridecanoic acid plug—that is capable of detecting glucose levels and automatically administering drugs. Graphene alone does not exhibit electrochemical biosensing properties; therefore, the researchers created a graphene hybrid—comprising a thin sheet of graphene doped with gold mesh and glucose oxidase—capable of biosensing. The researchers claim that the hybrid material increases both the electrochemical activity of the flexible patch and the accuracy of the glucose reading.

The patient wears the glucose-and-pH-sensitive patch on the wrist. The patch is capable of detecting blood-glucose levels from glucose-concentration levels in the patient's sweat. In addition, on detection of high glucose levels, the patch heats up the microneedles, dissolving the tridecanoic-acid plug and enabling the administration of diabetes medication metformin. On cooling, the plug restores itself, halting any further administration of the medication. Patients can also monitor this information by transferring it wirelessly to smart devices.

Implications

Diabetes continues to affect global public health and impart high economic burdens on many nations. An increasing middle class with disposable income in Africa is contributing to the increasing number of people with Type 2 diabetes. In addition, the rate of obesity—a contributing factor to the disease—tripled between 1974 and 2014 and can cause death if it remains unmanaged. Diabetes-management devices available on the market typically offer only independent attributes such as self-monitoring or treatment of the disease. This new glucose-monitoring-patch technology combines both attributes and is less invasive than self-monitoring devices (which usually require drawing blood samples to monitor glucose levels). However, further research and development of this patch is necessary to increase its robustness, which would prevent a decrease in its sensitivity on exposure to temperatures below room temperature.

Impacts/Disruptions

Like the majority of nanomaterials, graphene has the potential to be toxic to humans via inhalation. Nonetheless, graphene sheets are biocompatible and should pose no threat to human use. Commercialization of this flexible skin-patch technology has the potential to ease the management of diabetes among the global population by providing patients with reliable medication doses. In addition, this technology could have a significant impact on health-care provision for the disease and enable remote cloud monitoring. However, further research and development is necessary to create a scalable and inexpensive process to manufacture the doped graphene sheets before this technology is ready for commercialization.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium to High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years to 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Health care, wearables, digital health, big data

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Self-Cleaning Nanotextiles

Why is this topic significant?

Nanoengineered textiles have the potential to revolutionize the apparel industry. Recent research reveals a cost-effective approach to growing nanoparticles on cotton textiles, making them capable of degrading organic molecules on exposure to light.

Description

In March 2016, researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology at the University in Melbourne (Australia) developed a nanoparticle coating that is capable of degrading organic material on exposure to visible light. The researchers interwove cotton textile fabric with two different metallic-nanoparticle coating solutions consisting of copper and of silver.

On exposure to visible light, the nanoparticles undergo a catalytic reaction, absorbing energy and releasing it in the form of electrons. These electrons promote the degradation of organic matter, effectively eliminating dirt or stains on the fabric.

According to one of the lead researchers, Dr. Rajesh Ramanathan, "The advantage of textiles is they already have a 3-D structure so they are great at absorbing light, which in turn speeds up the process of degrading organic matter.... There's more work to do to before we can start throwing out our washing machines, but this advance lays a strong foundation for future development of fully self-cleaning textiles." The researchers plan to test the coating further on more realistic stains by replacing organic molecules with real-world ones, including different kinds of food and sweat.

Implications

The researchers' study reveals a new approach toward creating textiles that are capable of self-cleaning in the presence of natural sunlight. Although this self-cleaning-textile technology can also use other metallic or silica nanoparticles, the research reveals that copper or silver nanoparticles are of particular benefit in creating more breathable fabrics and faster self-cleaning times. In addition, the nanocoating technology is industrially scalable and therefore suitable for mass production in other applications such as catalysis-based industries, including agrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, and natural products. Some companies already incorporate nanomaterials into their day-to-day products to create antimicrobial textiles, self-cleaning paint, and door handles.

Impacts/Disruptions

Increasing consumer demand for smart products is also encouraging designers to add functionality to textiles by the addition of nanoparticles. Advances in scientists' understanding of nanoparticle properties and behavior are creating opportunities for apparel companies to incorporate the nanoparticles into products, creating nanoengineered functional textiles. The commercial potential of nanomaterials in textiles is considerably vast; many scientific groups are focusing their research efforts on developing textiles that incorporate nanoparticles to induce stain repellence and reduce wrinkles and static.

However, substantial concerns remain about the potential environmental exposure of nanoparticles from nanomaterial-enhanced textiles. For example, the release of nanoparticles into the environment during production, washing, and disposal of the textiles could be toxic. In particular, the likelihood of the release of nanoparticles during washing of the textiles using cleaning products that contain oxidizing agents is high; nanoparticles in wastewater could create issues for aquatic organisms. Therefore, more research and development is necessary to improve both the durability and the stability of nanoenhanced textiles before commercial application.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Low to Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years to 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Apparel, textiles, agrochemicals, pharmaceuticals

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: