Biosensors: Healthcare Options and Benefits for Patients and Providers

Biosensors help healthcare practitioners screen for, diagnose, and treat multiple medical conditions in the home and clinical environments. From simple pregnancy tests to smart wearable technology, biosensors offer non-invasive methods to detect the presence of chemicals and compounds that might indicate illness.

Key takeaways:

Biosensors are not a new concept. In the mid-1930s, Leland C. Clark, Jr., of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in Ohio, U.S.A., created a sensor to measure oxygen in the blood. Since then, biosensors have forged a permanent role in medical technology, with a market value expected to reach $38.7 million by 2027. In the 2020s, biosensors can be found in almost every sphere of healthcare. With products ranging from wearables to portable, low-cost devices deployed in hospital environments and medical practices, biosensors are now used for home care, diagnosis, and treatment purposes.

How biosensors work

A biosensor is a device that generates signals proportionate to the concentration of a product or substance, which is called an analyte. The biosensor measures the biological or chemical reaction to the analyte to predict what effect the presence of the analyte might have on the patient. For example, some analytes show signs of a medical condition’s presence, while others deliver a warning of the risk of medication or treatment side effects.

Examples of biosensors used by patients

Pregnancy tests and glucose monitoring gadgets (glucometers) have been an accepted aspect of our personal lives for decades. Both of these can be employed by end users in the privacy of their own homes.

Each biosensor consists of an electronic component that detects signals sent by the human body. A home pregnancy test has a biosensor that detects the presence of the HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) hormone in urine to establish pregnancy status.

A glucometer detects the patient’s glucose level by mixing a blood sample with glucose oxidase enzymes. The resulting electrical current triggers a number that shows the amount of glucose detected in the blood by the electrode.

Wearable biosensors for general health

Biosensor technology is responsible for many wearable devices used today, enabling people to measure everything from their heart and breathing rates to their stress levels and fatigue. Biosensors are a core component of EEG brainwave sensing headsets that claim to detect and interpret brain signals while the wearer is meditating.

Other home care uses for biosensors include using wearable devices such as Fitbit, smartwatches, smart rings, and other jewelry to record vital signs. Remote patient monitoring devices such as spirometers, thermometers, blood pressure, and heart rate monitors, all employ biosensors to detect specific measurements that indicate the wearer’s state of health.

A new generation of smart clothing contains expandable circuits for use in sports. For example, Memtronik’s training jersey with integrated biosensors captures data relating to the wearer’s physical activity, while another product incorporates heating circuits activated by dropping temperatures.

If you’ve ever had to wear a Holter heart monitor for a few days while going about your business, you’ll know the rig includes skin patches that transmit your data to the device for recording purposes. Many wearable biosensors also connect to mobile applications, where data is captured and recorded for reporting purposes or integration with your electronic health records.

The use of biosensors for home health monitoring purposes enables patients to exercise better control of their own wellness. This results in fewer hospital admissions, reduced hospital stays, and ongoing vigilance that helps prevent future readmissions.

Biosensors improve clinical diagnoses

Types of biosensors used in laboratory environments to aid diagnoses include enzyme biosensors, tissue-based biosensors derived from plant or animal sources, and immunosensors that detect antigens in our immune systems. DNA biosensors recognize and bind DNA strands, magnetic biosensors detect fluid particles, and protein biosensors help the development of genetic encoding.

These biosensors help clinicians screen for and identify diseases and track patients’ responses to care. Cancer, cardiovascular disease, glucose thresholds, microbial diseases, and liver failure are some of the conditions doctors can diagnose based on biosensor feedback.

Biosensors enhance treatment results

While early detection and diagnosis of medical conditions almost always improve patient outcomes, biosensors are also helpful for treatment purposes. Almost half the American population suffers from at least one chronic disease, and remote patient monitoring devices and intelligent wearables enable them to manage conditions with less interference.

Linked biomedical devices send data back to providers about patient progress and their response to treatment. Therapeutic drug monitoring helps track patients’ response to medication and identifies and alerts them to any risks of adverse events. Optical biosensors help with the administration of medicines and promote better patient adherence by tracking the levels of medication and usage frequency.

The future of biosensors

Although biosensors are well-entrenched in many aspects of healthcare already, new technological advances offer exciting possibilities for the future. Research from Stanford University is being used to develop personalized dashboards that can alert patients and their physicians to early warning signs of illness, even before they experience symptoms. This could enable clinicians to save lives by preventing illnesses such as seizures, heart attacks, and strokes even before they occur.

For people living with diabetes, testing their glucose levels several times a day is painful and inconvenient, leading to 80 percent avoiding checking often enough despite potential serious consequences. However, advances in biosensor technology are now making it easier for people with diabetes to check their glucose levels. For example, the latest bio-wearable tracker from PKvitality uses tiny micro-needles to analyze interstitial fluid painlessly, without ever having to conduct a blood test.

With its ability to make a noticeable impact on healthcare, biosensor technology is becoming a game changer. Whether you’re monitoring your health or consulting a physician for screening, diagnosis, or treatment, the chances are good you’ll be exposed to biosensors a few times during the process. Moving forward, the medical world can expect to see more evidence of how biosensors can become a game changers by helping to identify and monitor diseases and treatments.

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