Smart sensors keep medication secure

Tuesday, 07 May, 2019

Smart sensors keep medication secure

Researchers at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) are developing new sensor technology that has a variety of potential applications in health care — for example, as part of a smart pill bottle that sends wireless alerts when it detects tampering, overdose or unsafe storage conditions.

Digital technology offers opportunities to improve traditional approaches to issues threatening human health. For example, networks of tiny wearable sensors deployed in hospitals can be used to track influenza outbreaks in real time. But the high costs associated with electronic manufacturing means that these sensors aren’t available where they’re needed most — to the low-income populations that suffer disproportionately from epidemics.

Muhammed Hussain, Sherjeel Khan and colleagues are now working to make sensors more accessible using cheaper materials. For example, they recently demonstrated that it is feasible to create temperature and humidity sensors from paper by drawing circuits with conductive ink.

The team has now developed a stretchy sensor — an anisotropic conductive tape with a range of touch-sensitive applications. Assembled by sandwiching tiny silver particles between two layers of adhesive copper tape, the new material is non-conductive in its normal state. But when pressed by a finger, the double-layered tape makes an electrical connection that sends a signal to an external reader.

“Similar devices have been used in flat panel displays, but we’ve made them simple to build and easy to use by almost anyone,” Khan said.

The researchers used their technology to create a smart pill bottle to help fight the problem of prescription drug abuse. After 3D printing a lid that uses light-emitting diodes to count the number of pills dispensed, they taped paper-based humidity and temperature sensors to its underside. The bottle was then sealed with an outer layer of conductive tape that acts as a touch sensor.

If someone attempts to break into the bottle, or the insides become dangerously moist, a flexible control module inside the bottle analyses the signals and delivers warnings to mobile phones via a Bluetooth connection. The conductive tape could be used on its own or as part of a modular sensor system, with Hussain envisioning it could help groups looking for quick tests of innovative health sensors.

The team’s research has been published in Flexible and Printed Electronics.

Image caption: A flexible computer inside a medication bottle can send wireless SMS messages when someone attempts to tamper with it. Image ©2019 Muhammad M Hussain.

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