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Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering-based Team Receives Grant for Long-term Implantable Biosensor

A research team based in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering has received a 2-year grant totaling $266,000from the Commonwealth Health Research Board (CHRB) to develop an implantable biosensor for long-term continuous glucose monitoring. The device will improve comfort, safety and quality of life for the nearly one out of seven adults in Virginia who have diabetes.

The team is prototyping a subcutaneous, ultra-sensitive biosensor that will remain fully functional in the body for up to a year — a significant improvement over currently available biosensors, which typically last less than two weeks and are bulky and uncomfortable.

“What we are trying to develop is essentially a lab on an implantable chip,” said Erdem Topsakal, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering and principal investigator. “We hope that this technology will be used to detect not only glucose but many other blood constituents and disease markers in the future.”

The VCU team obtained the award from the CHRB following a highly competitive application process. Of the 67 proposals submitted by colleges and universities statewide, only six new projects were selected for funding. Five other projects received a second year of funding from the CHRB.

The technology is based on patterned surfaces and nanostructures that enhance biosensor sensitivity. Their design also allows for miniaturization, thus eliminating the discomfort associated with available sensor technologies. The device is constructed using nanoscale materials, which are a fraction of the width of a human hair. For this reason, it is versatile enough to take on various nanostructural forms including nanobelts, nanotubes and nanowires.

The team includes Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering faculty members Hadis Morkoc, Ph.D., Umit Ozgur, Ph.D., and Vitaly Avrutin. Ph.D.; Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., dean of the VCU School of Engineering; and Gary Francis, M.D, Ph.D., of the VCU Department of Pediatrics.