Biochip Measures Glucose in Saliva, Not Blood

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PROVIDENCE, R.I., Jan. 24, 2012 — A new sensor that can check blood sugar levels by measuring glucose concentrations in saliva could mean that diabetics no longer have to draw their own blood.

For the 26 million Americans with diabetes, drawing blood, which is invasive and at least minimally painful, is the most prevalent method of checking glucose levels. Now researchers at Brown University are working on a new biological device that can check glucose in saliva instead.

The new technique combines nanotechnology and surface plasmonics. The Brown engineers etched thousands of plasmonic interferometers onto a fingernail-size biochip and measured the concentration of glucose molecules in water on the chip. Their results showed that the specially designed biochip can detect glucose levels similar to those found in human saliva. Glucose typically is about 100 times less concentrated in human saliva than in blood.

Each plasmonic interferometer — thousands of them per square millimeter — consists of a slit flanked by two grooves etched in a silver metal film. The schematic shows glucose molecules “dancing” on the sensor surface, illuminated by light with different colors. Changes in light intensity transmitted through the slit of each plasmonic interferometer yield information about the concentration of glucose molecules in solution. (Image: Domenico Pacifici)

The technique also could be used to detect chemicals and substances such as anthrax in biological compounds.

The researchers created the sensor by carving a 100-nm-wide slit and etching two 200-nm-wide grooves on either side. The slit captures incoming photons and confines them, while the grooves scatter the incoming photons, which interact with the free electrons bounding around on the sensor’s metal surface. The free electron-photon interactions create a surface plasmon polariton. These surface plasmon waves move along the sensor’s surface until they encounter the photons in the slit.

The interference between the two waves determines maxima and minima in the light intensity transmitted through the slit. The presence of an analyte on the sensor surface generates a change in the relative phase difference between the two surface plasmon waves, which in turn causes a change in light intensity, measured by the researchers in real time.

“The slit is acting as a mixer for the three beams – the incident light and the surface plasmon waves,” said Domenico Pacifici, assistant professor of engineering.

The scientists discovered they could vary the phase shift for an interferometer by changing the distance between the grooves and the slit, meaning that they can tune the wave-generated interference. They tuned thousands of interferometers to establish baselines, which then could be used to accurately measure concentrations of glucose in water as low as 0.36 mg/dl.

“It could be possible to use these biochips to carry out the screening of multiple biomarkers for individual patients, all at once and in parallel, with unprecedented sensitivity,” Pacifici said.

The engineers next plan to build sensors tailored for glucose and other substances.

The research was published in Nano Letters and was funded by the National Science Foundation and Brown (through a Richard B. Salomon Faculty Research Award).

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Published: January 2012
An SI prefix meaning one billionth (10-9). Nano can also be used to indicate the study of atoms, molecules and other structures and particles on the nanometer scale. Nano-optics (also referred to as nanophotonics), for example, is the study of how light and light-matter interactions behave on the nanometer scale. See nanophotonics.
The use of atoms, molecules and molecular-scale structures to enhance existing technology and develop new materials and devices. The goal of this technology is to manipulate atomic and molecular particles to create devices that are thousands of times smaller and faster than those of the current microtechnologies.
1. A generic term for detector. 2. A complete optical/mechanical/electronic system that contains some form of radiation detector.
AmericasBasic SciencebiochipBiophotonicsbiosensor for glucose measurement in salivaBrown UniversitychemicalsdiabetesDomenico Pacificielectron-photon interactionsglucose concentration measurementhuman salivaImaginginterferometersnanonanotechnologyNational Science Foundationplasmonic interferometersResearch & TechnologyRhode IslandsensorSensors & Detectorssurface plasmonicssurface plasmons

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