The sooner doctors know of a bacterial invasion in your body, the better. For this reason, Michael McAlpine of Princeton University and other colleagues are developing a device that would be implantable somewhere in the body where it would be advantageous to sense such potential pathogens. For example, in the mouth.
What they've come up with a "tooth tattoo" made of graphene, which is composed of a single layer of cells that are sensitive to the smallest amounts of a substance. RSC reports that including a radio frequency identification tag, similar to those used in wireless entry cards, would give medical professionals the ability to be alerted to a potential infection in near real-time.
Here's more on how the team created the device:
To begin construction the chemists printed a small graphene grid onto a thin layer of transparent silk. This acted as a platform from which to transfer the graphene onto a range of substrates; not just teeth, but also soft tissues and intra-venous drip bags.
After placing the silk-graphene 'tattoo' onto the tooth, the area was rinsed with water, dissolving the silk support to leave the ultra-thin circuitry in place. The superlative properties of graphene ensured the material adhered strongly to the surface thanks to van der Waals forces.
From there the team combined certain substances on the graphene that would have an affinity for three bacterial strains. When the bacteria would bind to these substances, it would change the compound in a way that would be detected on the tattoo. It is sensitive enough to measure the and alert doctors to the concentrations of the bacteria present.
There is still more research to be done with this tattoo before it's telling your doctors you're going to get sick before you even feel the symptoms. McAlpine said it would need to be made more selective for sensing certain types of bacteria, not to mention that the whole tattoo could get brushed away when you clean your teeth.
Still, experts weighing in on the research said the concept shown in the experiment for biosensors and wireless communication has a "bright future."
The research was published in the journal Nature.