MIT researchers are developing tiny devices made from polymer wrapped carbon nanotubes that detect insulin, nitric oxide and fibrinogen — simplifying and automating diagnostic tests.
Past efforts to develop implantable sensors have failed, due to the body’s inclination to protect itself and recycle biological material. Devices can become wrapped in scar tissue, or their components can be broken down. The team believes that the nanotube sensors can be effective for the long term.
MIT’s Michael Strano builds sensors by coating carbon nanotubes with various polymers of different configurations. They are screened against libraries of molecules that the researchers want to detect. The method works because of the nanotubes’ natural ability to fluoresce: when light hits a sensor, the nanotube dims or brightens depending on whether it is bound to a molecule of interest.