3-D printing is doing for manufacturing technology what the internet did for information—endlessly snowballing the possibilities into the hands of anyone with a good idea and the smarts to see it through.
Oh, and a 3-D printer. You need to actually have the printer. Still, 3-D printing is rapidly opening up possibilities in healthcare previously reserved for science fiction: 3-D printed breast forms may help mastectomy patients grow new breasts, 3-D printed bones could save limbs, and now, wait for it… researchers are developing a 3-D printed glucose sensor.
How does that work?
Researchers from Washington State University have created a 3-D printed biosensor able to monitor glucose levels. Their research was first published in the journal Analytica Chimica Acta. They hope that their research will lead to a more accessible and more effective means of monitoring glucose levels for people with diabetes.
The team used a direct-to-ink process that can print very tiny, complex designs. The direct-to-ink process allowed them to use, instead of ink, electrically conductive nanoscale material that was then 3-D printed into the form of flexible electrodes.
Folks, the future is now.
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The direct-to-ink, 3-D printed electrodes are highly sensitive and more stable than traditional electrodes. Using these electrodes, researchers created a biosensor that does not require finger-sticks and can measure glucose through sweat. Yuehe Lin, one of the lead researchers, believes the noninvasive biosensor will be ideal for children. In tests, the printed sensor was more accurate than a sensor with traditionally manufactured electrodes.
Direct-to-ink combined with 3-D printing technology may also allow for customization of biosensors to an individual’s unique body chemistry. Finally, (and this is the best part) because of the efficiency of the process, a printed biosensor could, in theory, be less expensive than other wearable biosensors. Better and less expensive? This sounds like something long overdue in the diabetes community.
So what’s next? Researchers are working on creating a wearable biosensor that can be used on a long-term basis. No word yet on when we might see this technology available to consumers, though there may be a long road ahead.
Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.