Microworms produced using a vapor-deposition process: MIT/Northeaster, image via nanowerk.com If you have diabetes, or any other disease that requires close monitoring, there's a new development that may keep you from constantly interrupting
your routine to conduct self-monitoring or going to a laboratory for
regular testing. It's affectionately called a microworm,
and it's capable of not only monitoring, say your glucose levels, but
emitting a fluorescent glow, or 'tatoo,' through your skin to show you when you need
to be concerned. Pretty cool...
Researchers at MIT and Northeastern University have been able to improve on traditional microparticle systems for monitoring biomedical indicators such as levels of sodium or glucose in the blood. Once implanted, you might be able to monitor them yourselves when they light up in a special color that shows whether a chemical presence is high or low.
The traditional microparticles, developed by a number of researchers for system monitoring, are spherical. They are filled with chemicals that are specific to the conditions they monitor, or are filled with pharmaceutical chemicals for treatment. The problem is that the shape of the particles allow them to be swept away from the specific site over time.
The microparticles, or microworms, developed by MIT and Northeastern are long, tube-like structures that are extremely narrow, enabling them to keep their contents close to the systems they are monitoring - even anchored to those systems, so that they can be kept in place for months at a time.
Karen Gleason, co-author of the study, suggests that tubes be filled with fluorescent material that emits a colored light when the tube is in contact with a certain chemical. This light could be seen through the skin, so the patient would be able to monitor the system him/herself.
The microworms were tested for salt levels in the bloodstream of mice, but the research team is focusing more right now on their use in diabetes patients, so that they can see if their glucose levels are too high or two low without having to stop their regular activities to do testing.
"Tight control over glucose levels can help individuals stave off the
devastating side-effects of diabetes, the number one cause of kidney failure,
blindness in adults, nervous system damage, amputations. Diabetes is also a major
risk factor for heart failure, stroke and birth defects," Gleason said.
And though these microworms will forge a major change in glucose testing for diabetics, they can and will, no doubt, also revolutionize the monitoring of other disease processes as well.