INJECTABLE DEVICE CAN MONITOR ALCOHOL LEVELS
Whether an individual has been sent to substance abuse treatment by order of a court, is a teenager being monitored by his parents, or is someone trying to taper off their substance use, having some way to measure the level of drugs or alcohol in their system is imperative. Typically, this is done by urine or blood drug screening tests, or by breathalyzer for alcohol. However, both of these require cooperation from the patient, as well as a trained professional who can properly administer and analyze the results of the test. Breathalyzers also tend not to be terribly accurate. In response, in April 2018 scientists from the Jacobs School of Engineering at the University of San Diego developed an injectable, wireless biosensor microchip that can monitor the levels of drugs or alcohol in a person’s system.
Currently, the chip only measures levels of alcohol, but the engineers hope to create more that can detect other substances. In the future, they’d be able to inject multiple chips, customized to the patient’s particular history of substance use. It’s injected right under the skin, in the fluid around the body’s cells, and because it doesn’t require much power it can be powered wirelessly by a wearable device, such as a smartwatch or a patch. It can also operate for a longer period of time without being recharged. The chip has a sensor that is coated with a certain enzyme that selectively interacts with alcohol. This will generate a byproduct that can be detected electrochemically. (Electrochemistry is a branch of chemistry that studies the relationship between electricity and chemical changes.)
Injectable sensors like this one have several advantages over wearable sensors. For one thing, they are closer to blood vessels. For another, they’re difficult for the patient to remove themselves, unlike wearable devices that can be taken on and off at any time. Also, the microchips are unobtrusive, and the individual doesn’t have to worry about the stigma or the embarrassment of other people seeing that they’re being monitored. It is only one cubic millimeter in size (less than the size of a 10-gauge needle). Right now, the chip is in an early prototyping or proof of concept stage.
This technology can provide 24-hour treatment in a way that isn’t currently possible. It may also reduce the cost of substance abuse treatment, making frequent in-person visits less necessary.
CARI Therapeutics, a startup digital health company in the Qualcomm Institute Innovation Space (part of the UC San Diego division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology) plans to optimize and develop the sensor. This project is funded by a $235,000 Phase I Small Technology Transfer Innovation Research grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.