Medford (Massachusetts): One of the toughest parts of dieting is examining not only what you’ve eaten, but how much. It’s hard to determine sometimes whether or not you’ve exercising good portion control. That could soon change thanks to new, miniaturized sensors developed by researchers at the Tufts University School of Engineering that, when mounted directly on a tooth and communicating wirelessly with a mobile device, can transmit information on glucose, salt and alcohol intake.
In a research soon to be published in the journal Advanced Materials, researchers note that future adaptations of these sensors could enable the detection and recording of a wide range of nutrients, chemicals and physiological states.
Previous wearable devices for monitoring dietary intake suffered from limitations such as requiring the use of a mouth guard, bulky wiring, or necessitating frequent replacement as the sensors rapidly degraded. Tufts engineers sought a more adoptable technology and developed a smaller sensor with a mere 2mm x 2mm footprint that can flexibly conform and bond to the irregular surface of a tooth.
"In theory we can modify the bioresponsive layer in these sensors to target other chemicals -- we are really limited only by our creativity," said Fiorenzo Omenetto, Ph.D., corresponding author and the Frank C. Doble Professor of Engineering at Tufts. "We have extended common RFID [radiofrequency ID] technology to a sensor package that can dynamically read and transmit information on its environment, whether it is affixed to a tooth, to skin, or any other surface."
A Fitbit for the diet might help users keep track of what they’ve eaten and how much, which would be helpful for those trying to lose weight. It could also aid someone making a big dietary change, say to veganism, to be sure they are getting enough protein, iron, and other nutrients.
Currently, the sensor can detect what you’ve eaten. But, it still has a ways to go before it can say how much of any one substance you’ve consumed. Still, scientists see a clear path forward and in years to come, are confident such a device will become a reality.
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