FEB 09, 2016 7:40 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
DEC 24, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Feeling Unmotivated? It Could Be Dementia.
DEC 24, 2020
Feeling Unmotivated? It Could Be Dementia.
Apathy, characterized by a pronounced lack of enthusiasm, motivation, or interest, is a predictor of the future onset of ...
JAN 13, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
E-Stethoscope Picks up Good (and Bad) Vibrations
JAN 13, 2021
E-Stethoscope Picks up Good (and Bad) Vibrations
A medical device used to survey lung sounds to monitor for signs of respiratory distress has received FDA clearance. RES ...
FEB 23, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
New Insight Into Genetic Basis of IBD From African-American Patients
FEB 23, 2021
New Insight Into Genetic Basis of IBD From African-American Patients
The small variations in the genome that lead to differences in biology, including risk for diseases, can't be assumed to ...
MAR 02, 2021
Cardiology
Creating a Light Switch in the Heart to Regulate Heart Rate
MAR 02, 2021
Creating a Light Switch in the Heart to Regulate Heart Rate
Often when it is dark, we go for a flashlight or our phone to see where we are going. What if I told you that is much th ...
MAR 16, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
A Blood Test for Predicting if You'll Live to 100
MAR 16, 2021
A Blood Test for Predicting if You'll Live to 100
In 2012, a United Nations report estimated that there are over 316,000 people worldwide over the age of 100. What’ ...
APR 06, 2021
Health & Medicine
Is There an Upper Limit to the Benefits of Exercise?
APR 06, 2021
Is There an Upper Limit to the Benefits of Exercise?
By now, I am sure that you all know that one of the best ways to improve your health is by running, jogging, walking, or ...
Loading Comments...