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It is estimated that bipolar disorder affects one in 100 people and lithium remains the most effective long-term therapy for the condition. It is incredibly important to monitor lithium intake as it has a narrow therapeutic range and can be toxic once levels elevate above it.

In a new study published by Biosensors and Bioelectronics, researchers from the University of Surrey, in collaboration with the University of Bath, detail how they have built on their ground-breaking research by developing extraction fibres to draw lithium from under the skin. They combined lithium extraction with a lithium sensor fibre and reference fibre to create a miniaturised and flexible potentiometric cell—a wearable monitor that can be used by patients without the need to be “primed” in solution.

The researchers demonstrated that their monitor was able to detect lithium and, through their lab tests, they found that their device could also determine the lithium concentration levels and potentially give a warning signal that high levels had been reached. The team is now looking to understand and investigate whether it is possible for these devices to be sensitive enough to detect extremely narrow therapeutic ranges of lithium.

Many physical wearable sensors have been developed to monitor people’s temperature, heart rate and respiration rate and, while wearable glucose monitors are currently on the market, there are few other commercial wearable chemical sensors that exist. It is believed that using wearable chemical sensors at home, instead of a traditional clinical setting, for screening or follow up care would help to reduce the burden on health professional’s time.

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