Paper sensor to track alcohol-related health issues: Indian scientists

Kolkata, Feb 19 (IANS) Indian scientists have designed a paper sensor that has the potential to track health adversities associated with alcoholism, which they say is a step forward in the realm of low-priced point-of-care (POC) diagnostics in the country.

The electro-optical sensor crafted from filter paper detects the presence of an enzyme called alpha-amylase in blood, which is responsible for breaking down starch into simple sugars such as glucose, maltose and dextrin.

The important biomarker is produced by pancreas and salivary glands in the human body. An abnormal amount of amylase can be a sign of pancreatic disorder.

A spike in its level signifies diseases such as acute pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, gastroenteritis, etc., while a decrease suggests pancreatic damage, kidney disease, among others.

“The sensor can detect amylase levels through a simple lock and key biochemical reaction,” Dipankar Bandyopadhyay, associate professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, IIT-Guwahati, told IANS over phone.

Elaborating on the link between drinking and pancreas damage, Bandyopadhyay said excessive drinking together with smoking can irreversibly damage pancreas to cause acute or chronic pancreatic diseases.

“Molecules in alcohol react adversely with the cells of the pancreas, which becomes unduly severe with smoking habits. The chemicals imbibed during smoking explosively enhance the damaging effects from alcohol intake. In such situations, the activity of the pancreas and subsequently the amylase secretion goes haywire. Arguably, around half of people with chronic pancreatitis develop diabetes in the later part of their life.”

To design the sensor, the researchers coated a filter paper with starch and iodine which turned the filter paper blue. When amylase was added, the colour faded.

“By integrating this paper with an LED and photoresistor, we could detect the level by a change in light intensity and electrical resistance which is correlated with the amylase levels in the blood,” explained Bandyopadhyay, also associated with the Centre for Excellence in Research and Development of Nanoelectronic Theranostic Devices, sponsored by DeitY, at the Centre for Nanotechnology, IIT-Guwahati.

The development of the prototype is financially supported by Ministry of Communication and Information Technology and DeitY (Department of Electronics and Information Technology).

The prototype has been developed by a team of scientists consisting of Bandyopadhyay as well as Satarupa Dutta and Nilanjan Mandal. They are applying for a patent and aim to commercialise the technology.

“If the device can be integrated with a chip that is compatible with the mobile phone, it can serve as a portable detector. The purpose is to generate awareness through POCs so that people will know the situation with regards to their alcohol intake and accordingly go for curbing the habit,” he added.

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