by Jake Meyer
In our lifetime, we may see nanotechnology offer improvements in nearly every facet of modern life. The field of medicine is no exception and nanotechnology research looks to provide technology breakthroughs that will change the way diseases are treated. Nanotechnology has the potential to improve the treatment of malignant diseases like cancer. For example, U.S. Patent No. 6,727,065 describes a quantum dot which attaches itself to a cancerous tumor and upon exposure to infrared radiation releases a substance toxic to the tumor. Nanotechnology also has the potential to improve the treatment of chronic diseases such as diabetes. Diabetes affects millions of Americans and recent nanotechnology research may lead to a new way of monitoring blood glucose that doesn't involve sticking yourself with a needle.
Researchers at Purdue University have created a biosensor which precisely detects blood glucose. The biosensor is composed of a single-wall carbon nanotube attached to a gold-coated "nanocube." The nanocube acts as a sensor and the carbon nanotube acts as a wire to carry electrical signals to electronic circuitry. The design has been referred to as a tether ball and is well-suited for sensing applications because the sensing portion of the system extends out from the rest of the system allowing it to contact target molecules more easily. Attached to the nanocube is an enzyme called glucose oxidase. When the enzyme is in the presence of glucose and oxygen there is an electrochemical reaction that generates an electrical signal, which then travels along the carbon nanotube.
This research could lead to a device that would allow people with diabetes to continuously monitor their blood glucose level. More research will have to be done, however, before such a device can be developed. Researchers will need to determine if there are risks to using these nanotechnology biosensors in the body. But this biosensor research could change the way people with diabetes monitor their blood glucose level.
It is important for people with diabetes to monitor their blood glucose level because blood glucose levels that are too low or too high can result in hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia. In addition, uncontrolled high blood glucose levels increase the risk of long-term complications such as neuropathy, retinopathy, cardiac disease, stroke, kidney failure, and amputation. The current method for testing blood glucose levels involves drawing a small amount of blood with a lancet. A device that allows people with diabetes to continuously monitor their blood glucose level would make the management of their blood glucose levels more convenient and more efficient than drawing blood several times a day. By allowing people with diabetes to better manage the disease, risks for long-term complications may be reduced.
A blood glucose monitoring device that uses this technology could be particularly beneficial for schoolchildren with diabetes. An issue for students with diabetes is that these students miss class time while managing their disease. Some students may have to travel to the nurse's office several times a day to have their blood glucose levels checked and they may have to wait to see the nurse as he or she may be responsible for hundreds of students. The process of checking blood glucose levels with one of these blood glucose monitoring devices would be easier than with the current blood draw method, and students with these devices could be able to self-monitor his or her blood glucose levels at a younger age. The American Diabetes Association recommends that students who are able to self-monitor their diabetes be given permission to do so in the classroom and recommends that the school provide a private location for a student to monitor his or her glucose if the student desires privacy. Students using such a device may feel less of a need for privacy and more students may be able to monitor their blood glucose in class while missing little or no class.
The researchers have applied for a patent on this nanotech biosensor. If the patent is granted, hopefully it will encourage investment by companies that will lead to the development of products that will improve the lives of people with diabetes.