MIT researchers have developed tiny, implantable sensors that can detect and track such conditions as cancer and diabetes.
The carbon nanotubes, which can be implanted under the skin for more than a year, monitor inflammation and nitric oxide — a biomarker for cellular activity that is altered in the presence of some cancers.
Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also said the sensors can be modified to detect other molecules, such as glucose, which could help monitor diabetic patients.
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"Nitric oxide has contradictory roles in cancer progression, and we need new tools in order to better understand it," said Michael Strano, a professor of chemical engineering at MIT, who helped conduct the research published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. "Our work provides a new tool for measuring this important molecule, and potentially others, in the body itself and in real time."
The MIT project is the first demonstration that nanosensors could be used in the body for extended periods of time. The MIT lab has recently developed such sensors for a variety of molecules, including hydrogen peroxide and toxic agents such as the nerve gas sarin.
For the new research, the MIT team created two different types of sensors: One that can be injected into the bloodstream for short-term monitoring, and another embedded in a gel and implanted long-term under the skin.
The findings may be particularly important for diabetic patients, who must prick their fingers several times a day to take blood glucose readings.
The study was funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute.
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