By Robert Preidt
The miniature biosensor would be placed just beneath the skin surface and be powered wirelessly by a wearable device, such as a smartwatch or patch, the University of California, San Diego engineers explained.
"The ultimate goal of this work is to develop a routine, unobtrusive alcohol and drug monitoring device for patients in substance abuse treatment programs," project leader Drew Hall said in a university news release. Hall is an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.
Routine monitoring of people in addiction treatment programs is a challenge. The most common way to check patients' blood alcohol levels is a breathalyzer, but the devices are bulky, not that accurate, and require patient initiation, according to Hall.
The most accurate method is a blood test, but that must be done by a trained technician. Tattoo-based alcohol sensors that are worn on the skin show promise, but they can be easily removed and are good only for one use, Hall said.
"A tiny injectable sensor -- that can be administered in a clinic without surgery -- could make it easier for patients to follow a prescribed course of monitoring for extended periods of time," he said.
The sensor has been tested in the lab underneath layers of pig skin, and the next step is to test it in live animals.
"This is a proof-of-concept platform technology. We've shown that this chip can work for alcohol, but we envision creating others that can detect different substances of abuse and injecting a customized cocktail of them into a patient to provide long-term, personalized medical monitoring," Hall said.
The research was presented April 10 at the 2018 IEEE Custom Integrated Circuits Conference, in San Diego. Research presented at meetings is typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.