Ancient physicians would diagnose patients by scrutinizing and smelling various bodily fluids in order to determine how the body was out of balance. Modern medicine is not as far removed from these antiquated procedures as you might imagine. Various diseases and chronic conditions have their own particular “biomarkers” that can be used to detect and diagnose illness. For example, acetone is a marker for diabetes. Other markers can indicate high blood pressure, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). What is needed is a low-cost and highly-accurate sensor to detect various compounds in the breath and released through the skin.
Researchers at the University of Michigan are working on just such a device. They have found a way to use graphene to detect small quantities of target compounds, and in just tenths of a second. Graphene is a sheet of carbon atoms just one atom thick, and it’s the new wonder material that is being explored for everything from semiconductors to large capacity electrical storage for electric cars. The U of M researchers have developed a way to use graphene to create vapor sensors that can be embedded in a “lab on a chip” to perform microgas chromatography on a continuous basis. A small patch worn on the skin could provide constant real-time monitoring of a patient’s chemistry, with very low power consumption.