Wearable biosensors non-invasively monitor health and fitness but adapting technology for use with infants is difficult because the devices are often bulky or have rigid surfaces that could cause harm. Now researchers say they have developed a pacifier-based biosensor that tracks real-time glucose levels in saliva. It could ultimately help diagnose and treat diabetes in the smallest of patients.
So far, all of the wearable devices made for babies measure only physical characteristics, such as heart or respiration rate, and not biomarkers such as glucose. Continuous glucose monitoring in newborns, only in major hospitals, usually requires piercing the infant's skin to reach interstitial fluid. Joseph Wang, Alberto Escarpa, and colleagues wanted to develop a baby-friendly biosensor.
As a proof of concept, researchers made a pacifier with a nipple containing a narrow channel. When an infant sucks on the pacifier, small amounts of saliva transfer through the channel to a detection chamber. There, an enzyme attached to an electrode strip would convert glucose in the fluid to a weak electrical signal, which could be detected wirelessly by a cell phone App. The strength of the current correlated with the amount of glucose in saliva samples. The researchers haven't yet tested the device with babies, but they conducted a preliminary analysis with adult type 1 diabetes patients. Using the pacifier, the team detected changes in glucose concentrations in the patients' saliva before and after a meal. The device could someday be configured to monitor other disease biomarkers, the researchers say.