Graphene-based sensor could help ward off asthma attacks

Lungs
Being able to predict the onset of attacks could help asthma sufferers avoid attacks without the use of drugs.

Scientists at Rutgers University-New Brunswick have created a graphene-based sensor that could lead to a wearable device that when blow into predicts the likelihood of an asthma attack.

Asthma affects more than 24 million Americans, nearly 8% of the total population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2010, more than 439,000 adults and children were hospitalized due to asthma.

Asthma management typically involves taking medication and avoiding irritants. Current noninvasive ways to diagnose and track asthma require expensive and bulky equipment, Rutgers said in a statement. A portable device that predicts an attack could help sufferers ward off attacks rather than react to them by inhaling a drug.

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Spirometry, a current diagnostic method, screens for exhaled nitric oxide to identify inflammation of the airway. The Rutgers team created an electrochemical sensor that uses reduced graphene oxide to measure nitrite in exhaled breath, according to the statement.

"Nitrite level in breath condensate is a promising biomarker for inflammation in the respiratory tract," said Clifford Weisel, Ph.D., a professor at Rutgers' Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, who co-authored the study, which was published in Microsystems & Nanoengineering. "Having a rapid, easy method to measure it can help an asthmatic determine if air pollutants are affecting them so they can better manage use of medication and physical activity."

In addition to personal asthma management, the device could also be used in healthcare settings to track the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs and optimize care, Weisel said.

The Rutgers team isn’t the only one working on ways to prevent asthma attacks. Researchers from North Carolina State University developed a wearable system comprising a wristband, chest patch and spirometer that monitors environmental factors—such as humidity and compounds in the air—that could trigger an asthma attack. Eventually, the NC State team hopes to create software that will track a user’s data and automatically warn of an impending attack

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