Almost everything in the healthcare industry is now going digital. Technology has made it possible that people can now monitor their heart-health at home, their cortisol levels in real time and more… all-using wearable devices.
Now, what’s even more promising is that bipolar patients and people living with depression will in the near future be able to monitor their lithium drug levels using a special wearable sensor that has been discovered.
The drug lithium is used to treat people with mood fluctuations such as bipolar and depression and its levels must be kept in check as an excess of it can be poisonous to the user.
Lithium Sensors Currently in the Market
The sensors currently used for the same purpose have limitations, first, they are not wearable and second they must be pre-conditioned in solution for several hours before use, that’s on a daily basis.
With such requirements, the user may find it hard to keep up with checkups thereby exposing themselves to lithium poisoning.
Now, in a study appearing in the journal ACS Sensors by the University of Surrey researchers, the scientists say they have discovered what they call the world’s first fiber-based sensors that are practically ready for use, to test lithium levels as the body produces the drug.
The advantage with this is that the sensor as easy to use: think of putting on your shirt, that’s easy right, also, no more pre-conditioning in solution.
The Drug Needs to Be Monitored
Chemically speaking, lithium being an antipsychotic drug is used to treat mood-related conditions such as depression and bipolar. However, after administering the drug must be closely monitored to ensure right levels are maintained; reason being, a wrong dosage might become extremely toxic to the patient’s health.
After use, doctors recommend checks after five to seven days, and that follow-up check-ups to proceed on a bi-weekly routine until the levels become steady. After stability is attained the checks can now be spread to once after every three months.
The Discovered Sensors
After various tests, the new sensors which might replace what is currently in the market, have been found to be super accurate and first in detecting lithium levels. The research paper calls this a breakthrough in lithium checks and also points out that the new miniature sensors are clinically reliable in bringing to attention toxic concentration limits.
Another unique advantage this sensor brings in is the fact that it is also able to measure lithium levels in a person’s blood even when there are higher levels of sodium.
Senior lecturer Dr. Caro Crean, from the University of Surrey Physical and Material Chemistry explains: “We strongly hope the discovery of these sensors is going to help millions of people worldwide, those diagnosed with mood disorders. These sensors will eliminate the need to use invasive means to get blood samples from depression and bipolar patients. Top on that, they will offer a reliable alternative to the invasive methods currently depended upon.”
The list of benefits this brings is quite extensive because in addition, it means measuring lithium concentration might no longer require visiting a health specialist, the wearable sensor could be used at home. That is, they might one day advance to send data to hospital servers automatically for monitoring while the patient continues with their daily routine.
Talking of who benefits from this tech, records show there are over four million cases of mood-related disorders in the UK alone — these include mild depression (which might advance to cause disability,) normal depression, and bipolar disorders.