Biosensor Tracks Drugs in Real Time

November 27, 2013

It’s not quite the tricorder that doctors in the legendary sci-fi series Star Trek would use to instantly assess a patient’s condition, but it’s close. A small electronic device can continuously track the level of medicines in an animal’s bloodstream. If it works in people, the device could revolutionize how medicines such as anticancer compounds and antibiotics are monitored and administered for life-threatening conditions.

Doctors always aim to give their patients the right dose of medications. But that’s often not easy. Drug levels typically spike above the desired level after a medicine is administered and then fall below it as time goes on. It’s been even harder to track drugs with a continuous electronic readout. A device does exist for measuring glucose in the bloodstream of diabetics. It works by tethering an enzyme called glucose oxidase next to an electrode. When a drop of blood is added to the device, the glucose oxidase splits glucose molecules, swiping electrons in the process. Those electrons then hop to the electrode, producing a spike in electrical current. Unfortunately, researchers haven’t had much luck in tweaking this approach to detect other molecules, in part because there aren’t many enzymes like glucose oxidase that are tailored to work on a specific compound.

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