The development of portable medical sensors could be key to setting up parameters to measure biochemical information to diagnose medical disease. Researchers at the Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research (IBBR) recently received $1 million from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA, part of the US Department of Defense) to develop wearable medical sensors for this purpose.
IBBR Fellow Dr. Gregory Payne, the principal investigator on the award, is proposing a research methodology that starts with measurements that can be made quickly on a deployable device. From among those measurements, they will suggest which datasets give valuable information that can be used for basic research and diagnostic development. The process is different from conventional research which involves studying a biological system, identifying an important chemical, and then developing a way to measure it.
One example is reduction-oxidation (redox) reactions, which involve the transfer of electrons from one molecule to another. Chemical redox reactions are used by cells for a wide range of biological functions. And, since electronic devices are also based on the movement of electrons, “communication” between biology and a device is possible.
“We believe that redox state is an example of an easily measured modality with the potential to give us access to systems-level biological information,” Payne said in a statement. “The ultimate goal is to be able to determine a person’s health status from a simple and rapid redox measurement, whether they are in a physician’s office, at home, or on the battlefield.”
The researchers will collect redox measurements from various biological systems and look for patterns that reveal stable and perturbed states. They will also continue to develop sensors that directly connect biology to electronic circuits. Both of these objectives will be informed by exploring cellular mechanisms of redox detection and response.
The project is an ongoing collaboration between Payne and IBBR Fellow Dr. William Bentley (Professor, Fischell Department of Bioengineering, University of Maryland, College Park; Director, Robert E. Fischell Institute for Biomedical Devices), and researchers at the Naval and Army Research Laboratories.