Wearable Sensor Uses Saliva to Monitor Oral Diseases

Dentistry Today
Courtest of Microsystems & Nanoengineering


Courtest of Microsystems & Nanoengineering

Researchers at the Penn State Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics (ESM) are developing a wearable device that would deliver real-time medical data for patients with oral or optical diseases.

“We sought to create a device that collects both small and large substances of biofluids such as tears and saliva, which can be analyzed for certain conditions on a rapid, continuous basis, rather than waiting on test results from samples in a lab,” said Dorothy Quiggle Career Development Professor Huanyu “Larry” Cheng.

The sensors would be placed near the mouth or the tear duct to collect samples. The device then would produce data viewable on a user’s smartphone or sent to the user’s doctor, Cheng said.

“But a device like this would have to be discreet, soft and comfortable for a patient to agree to wear it,” Cheng said. “And it would have to be a low-cost option for patients.”

The saliva-sensing and tear-sensing technology could help manage diseases like oral ulcers, oral cancer, eye wrinkles, and oral or eye infections like keratitis, which is inflammation of the clear tissue on the front of the eye, the researchers said.

Last year, Cheng published data about a similar wearable skin patch that collects sweat and tests for pH, sodium, and glucose levels, which is most helpful for patients with hypoglycemia or diabetes.

The new device would collect data as well as administer medicine with a microneedle through the skin around the eye, mouth, or tongue.

“Through nano- to micro-steel ports on the device, we can probe the cell to deliver molecular drugs for treatment in a very efficient process at the cellular level,” Cheng said. “Conversely, the ports can allow us to get access to the gene and coding information on the cell.”

The researchers are developing working prototypes and are in talks with local manufacturers as well as the National Institutes of Health and Amazon for manufacturing the device on a large scale.

“This is a mature technology with a lot of interest behind it,” Cheng said. “There are many possible uses for the device if it makes it to the commercial marketplace.”

With future support from the National Science Foundation, Cheng hopes to extend the technology to other applications as well.

“There is strong motivation for us to apply this technology to similar sensing devices in the future,” Cheng said.

The study, “Micro/Nanodevices for Assessment and Treatment in Stomatology and Ophthalmology,” was published by Microsystems & Nanoengineering.

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