Awesome Medical Tech Developments

We were expecting flying cars, and we got 140 characters.” Up to now, our latest digital age has been a distinct disappointment in many ways, but things are heating up beyond yet more annoying ways to exploit perceived “market inefficiency for attention”, which will soon reduce the world wide web to a useless goop of advertising, spam, and malware.

This week I see two awesome medical technologies, which we have been expecting and waiting to get for a long time now.

Hyunjae Lee and colleagues from several institutions in Korea and the US have made significant progress using graphene sensors to monitor blood sugar and automatically administer medication when needed. [2] These are worn in a skin patch.

Photo: Hui Won Yun/Seoul National University

As Phillip Ross comments at IEEE Spectrum, “By itself, graphene can’t sense glucose, but if you dope 2-D carbon properly, it can become quite a useful elecrochemistry set.” I don’t know anything about doping graphene, so this is all black magic to me—and so cool.

I do understand the desirability of a small “closed loop” system like this, to deal with this kind of metabolic issue. If we can get sensors and delivery, I’m sure we can work out the software to intelligently manage the situation.

The current version is not really able to effectively administer medication – it just doesn’t carry enough in a small patch. And I’m sure it needs a lot of work to make sure that the logic is solid and failsafe.

In a similar—dare I say it—vein, a research group headquartered at MIT describe their “On-demand continuous-flow production of pharmaceuticals in a compact, reconfigurable system, or, as Emily Waltz at IEEE Spectrum puts it, “The Dial-a-Drug Machine”. With this device, you can manufacture drugs on site.

Not being in any way current on chemistry or chemical engineering, the description of this gadget sounds to me like, “why hasn’t this been done before?” A reconfigurable array of devices for mixing chemicals, controlled by a software system, it’s basically a chemical factory in a box.


If nothing else, this is how you design chemical factories, no?

As in the case of the blood monitoring, one key innovation is sophisticated sensing that allows the computer to monitor the composition of the flow at every stage, as well as temperature and pressure. I don’t know what an  attenuated total reflection (ATR) Fourier Transform InfraRed (FTIR) spectrometer is, exactly, but it sound like just what you need. Add in plug and play synthesis modules, and all you need is software. Problem solved!

(Actually one illustration of the “flowchart” is incomprehensible. I suspect that there is scope for some serious software development to make a nice operator interface.)

The current model is the size of a refrigerator, and, of course, isn’t approved yet. And there are many details, such as how to deal with chemical waste. But it will get smaller, and it will be real.

Today’s theme has been, “I don’t know much about this kind of science”, follow by the observation that, “If you give me sensors and actuators, I know we can whack together the software, toot sweet.”


  1. Adamo, Andrea, Rachel L. Beingessner, Mohsen Behnam, Jie Chen, Timothy F. Jamison, Klavs F. Jensen, Jean-Christophe M. Monbaliu, Allan S. Myerson, Eve M. Revalor, David R. Snead, Torsten Stelzer, Nopphon Weeranoppanant, Shin Yee Wong, and Ping Zhang, On-demand continuous-flow production of pharmaceuticals in a compact, reconfigurable system. Science, 352 (6281):61-67, 2016.
  2. Lee, Hyunjae, Tae Kyu Choi, Young Bum Lee, Hye Rim Cho, Roozbeh Ghaffari, Liu Wang, Hyung Jin Choi, Taek Dong Chung, Nanshu Lu, Taeghwan Hyeon, Seung Hong Choi, and Dae-Hyeong Kim, A graphene-based electrochemical device with thermoresponsive microneedles for diabetes monitoring and therapy. Nat Nano, advance online publication 03/21/online 2016.


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