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Nanosensors under the skin

Wrapped in gel, carbon nanotubes monitor nitric oxide levels

BRYCE VICKMARK / MITWrapped in gel, carbon nanotubes monitor nitric oxide levelsBRYCE VICKMARK / MIT

Nitric oxide (NO) is a signaling molecule that regulates several physiological processes, such as coordination of immune system functions, in many animal tissues. NO levels undergo alterations in cancer cells and are associated with inflammatory processes. For this reason, Michel Strano, a professor of chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and his postdoctoral researcher Nicole Iverson developed a new sensor made of carbon nanotubes wrapped in gel to monitor nitric oxide levels. This sensor, built in the laboratory, monitored nitric oxide in animals for over a year. The device, designed to be injected into the bloodstream or implanted under the skin, may be adapted to detect other molecules, such as glucose. Their idea is that, in the future, these tiny devices can be implanted under the skin of patients with diabetes, triggering an insulin pump when blood sugar reaches a certain level. The scientists believe that, with some adaptations, the sensor could also be used to monitor inflammatory diseases and cancer or to detect adverse immune reactions in patients with bone implants. The research received funding from Sanofi-Aventis, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). The sensor was presented in the journal Nature Nanotechnology on November 3, 2013.