FEB 09, 2016 07:40 AM PST

Ultrathin, Bendable Pressure Sensors for Detection of Tumor Lumps

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
Ultrasensitive, flexible pressure sensors could revolutionize medicine

Despite numerous medical advancements in the past few decades, nothing has come close to replacing a doctor’s touch during routine physical exams. But a technical upgrade in the form of ultrathin, flexible pressure sensors could revolutionize how doctors use touch to detect lumps and bumps.
 
The innovation of this next generation pressure sensor technology was led by Dr. Sungwon Lee and Professor Takao Someya of the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Engineering. Their work was recently published in Nature Nanotechnology.
 
Pressure sensors have been on the market for a while now, including those that are thin and flexible enough to mold themselves to the contours of a human hand. However, these pressure sensors give unreliable and inaccurate measurements when it gets bent, twisted, or wrinkled. And for pressure sensors to have any clinical utility, it must be able to withstand distortions to extraordinary degrees.
 
"Many groups are developing flexible sensors that can measure pressure, but none of them are suitable for measuring real objects, since they are sensitive to distortion," study lead author Sungwon Lee, also of the University of Tokyo, said in a statement.
 
To address this problem, the team conceptualized and designed a pressure sensor that was ultrathin but resilient enough to accurately detect pressure at any degree of distortion.
 
Their pressure sensor is a mere 8 microns thick – about one-fifth the thickness of a human hair. Among other components, the new sensor is composed of transistors made of carbon nanontubes, which are carbon pipes nanometers in diameter, and graphene, which are carbon sheets only 1 atom thick. These meshes of ultrathin pressure sensors can measure pressure at 144 places simultaneously, even through twisting and bending. Yet, they are thin enough that they could be easily incorporated into a pair of latex gloves.
 

The team demonstrated the device’s accuracy in reading the pressure of a balloon, which represents a soft, moveable, 3-dimensional surface not unlike that of the human body. And in experiments with a simulated blood vessel, the device successfully detected small pressure fluctuations, as well as the rate of the pressure changes. 
 
With the aid of these pressure sensors, the researchers hope that doctors can more precisely detect tumor lumps that would otherwise not be revealed with the “naked” hand. While the sensor is currently far from replacing traditional X-ray assisted mammography exams, the scientists hope to move in that direction. “The new sensors may offer easy and painless monitoring of tumors without exposure to radiation,” speculates Someya.

Interested in learning more about graphene and its many uses? Check out this video!
 

Additional sources: Live Science, EurekAlert!
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
APR 11, 2018
Cardiology
APR 11, 2018
Amino Acid Blood Test Predicts Heart Disease
There’s a new biomarker in the world of science that finally links heart disease and diabetes on the molecular level. Using levels of branched chain ...
APR 19, 2018
Clinical & Molecular DX
APR 19, 2018
Could a blood test detect lung cancer?
Lung nodules are more common than most people think, and they’re benign more often than they are malignant. From the Medical University of South Caro...
APR 30, 2018
Clinical & Molecular DX
APR 30, 2018
Reducing Dependency on Antibiotics in Hospitals
How can small community and rural hospitals create antibiotic stewardship programs to reduce the danger of antibiotic resistance? Scientists from the Inter...
JUN 11, 2018
Clinical & Molecular DX
JUN 11, 2018
Nasal Brush Test for Asthma Diagnosis
Diagnosing mild-to-moderate asthma can be difficult to diagnose, especially when scientists need to rule out other respiratory disorders that have similar...
JUN 23, 2018
Clinical & Molecular DX
JUN 23, 2018
Algorithm-Based Blood Test Diagnoses Autism
As a developmental disorder, autism spectrum disorders (ASD) can be diagnosed as early as 18 to 24 months of age, but often the diagnosis does not come unt...
SEP 03, 2018
Clinical & Molecular DX
SEP 03, 2018
Patients fewer symptoms after these words from doctors
A few encouraging words about recovery time from a health care provider after an allergic reaction significantly reduces symptoms, according to a new study...
Loading Comments...