Worm-like Nanoparticles Could Be Planted Under Our Skin for Glucose Monitoring

Research develops nanoparticle that stays anchored at its insertion point for biomedical monitoring

2 min read
Worm-like Nanoparticles Could Be Planted Under Our Skin for Glucose Monitoring

In collaborative work between researchers at MIT and Northeastern University in Boston, MA a comparatively long and hollow nanoparticle has been developed that could be implanted under the skin and remain anchored at its original location to monitor levels of glucose or salt or other targets over time.

The work, which was initially published online last month in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, builds on the work of Karen Gleason, one of the lead researchers on this project, in using chemical vapor deposition (CVD) to create a coating with microscopic pores.

The breakthrough of the new nanoparticle, which is being called “microworms”, has to do with their shape. While spherical nanoparticle have been developed that could be filled with specific chemicals to detect various biomedical conditions and then implanted under the skin, they just wouldn’t stay where they were. They would get washed away.

To combat this, the research team developed tubes that were narrow enough to keep them more or less on the same dimensions as the spherical nanoparticles but were long enough in length so that they would better anchor to the location at which they were originally implanted.

Where this particular research seems a bit odd to me is in the area of its proposed applications. Now I try to remember Eric Drexler’s point in his blog late last year that scientists are held to two different standards when discussing applications to fellow scientists and then to lay people, but I can’t imagine these applications would be particularly attractive to lay people.

To copy and paste a bit the application proposals they go something like ‘microworms’ would “someday lead to implantable devices that would allow, for example, people with diabetes to check their blood sugar just by glancing at an area of skin.”

Now I’ve known people that had to regularly check their glucose levels, and this amounted to a pin prick of their finger and a drop of blood on test strip, then into the meter and voila. Pretty quick and pretty painless. But do I really want some area under my skin to reveal my glucose level? Seems kind of a long way to go for a fairly diminished return.

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Emily Cooper

Perhaps the most far-reaching technological achievement over the last 50 years has been the steady march toward ever smaller transistors, fitting them more tightly together, and reducing their power consumption. And yet, ever since the two of us started our careers at Intel more than 20 years ago, we’ve been hearing the alarms that the descent into the infinitesimal was about to end. Yet year after year, brilliant new innovations continue to propel the semiconductor industry further.

Along this journey, we engineers had to change the transistor’s architecture as we continued to scale down area and power consumption while boosting performance. The “planar” transistor designs that took us through the last half of the 20th century gave way to 3D fin-shaped devices by the first half of the 2010s. Now, these too have an end date in sight, with a new gate-all-around (GAA) structure rolling into production soon. But we have to look even further ahead because our ability to scale down even this new transistor architecture, which we call RibbonFET, has its limits.

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