ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have created a wearable sensor patch capable of continuously monitoring the levels of the antibiotic vancomycin.

The lab combined its earlier work on painless microneedles with nanoscale sensors to create the wearable sensor patch. Vancomycin is used as a last line of defense to treat severe bacterial infections, said Alex Downs, a Jill Hruby Fellow and project lead. Continuous monitoring of vancomycin is important because there is a narrow range within which it effectively kills bacteria without harming the patient, she added.

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“In a clinical setting, how that would happen is a doctor would check on the patient on an hourly basis and request a single time-point blood measurement of vancomycin. Someone would come to draw blood, send it to the clinic and get an answer back at some later time. Our system is one way to address that delay,” said Philip Miller, a Sandia biomedical engineer who advised on the project.

After constructing the microneedle sensors, the team tested whether a microneedle sensor could detect vancomycin in a saline solution, mimicking the conditions inside the body, Downs said. Once successful, they tested the entire system in undiluted cow blood. The system was still able to detect vancomycin.

Then, to test if the microneedles and aptamers would work after being inserted into the skin, the researchers inserted the patch into pig skin several times, monitored the electronic signal from the patch while it was in the skin, and tested its ability to detect vancomycin.

Since successfully testing the sensor patch system, the next step is partnering with another research group to test it in humans or other animals, Downs and Miller said. “The next big technical hurdle is proving that it works in the body for an extended amount of time,” Miller said.