Engineers have built a tiny, flexible sensor that is faster and more precise than past attempts at tracking this chemical, called glutamate. The sensor, an implantable device on the spinal cord, is primarily a research tool for testing in animal models but could find future clinical use as a way to monitor whether a drug for neurotrauma or brain disease is working.

An implantable sensor has the speed and precision for tracking a brain chemical known to be elevated in certain brain diseases and after a spinal cord injury. (Credit: Purdue University image/Tran Nguyen)

The technique allows researchers to rapidly change the size, shape, and orientation of the sensors and then test in animal models without having to go through the more expensive process of microfabrication.

Measuring levels in vivo would help researchers to study how spinal cord injuries happen, as well as how brain diseases develop.

The researchers implanted the device into the spinal cord of an animal model and then injured the cord to observe a spike. The device captured the spike immediately, whereas for current devices, researchers have had to wait 30 minutes to get data after damaging the spinal cord.

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