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Nicole McFarlane, an assistant professor in the Min H. Kao Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

A new technology may change the way patients with diabetes monitor their glucose levels, thanks to sensors being developed by a UT professor.

Nicole McFarlane, an associate professor in the Min H. Kao Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, is working with analyte sensors that could one day do away with the current need for finger pricking among those with diabetes. These analyte sensors are designed based on biology and can be implanted in a patient to allow for continuous monitoring.

“We’ve taken a two-pronged approach,” McFarlane said. “We’ve aimed to build a better sensor that will require a smaller sample size but will also be able to reliably replace the sensors people currently use.”

These new smart devices could even deliver medication as needed, reducing the need for painful insulin injections.

The sensors also have applications outside the realm of medicine, for which McFarlane and her team earned a $600,000 award from the US Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

Scientists working at the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory examine the behaviors and properties of materials at the smallest scales, allowing them to improve technology in fields as diverse as electronics and medicine.

Common means of measurement require an extremely sensitive detector of light, but these devices have major drawbacks—they are expensive, require massive cooling efforts, and can be somewhat delicate as they are housed inside a glass tube.

McFarlane’s analyte sensors have the potential to provide solutions to all of those issues.

Further, analyte sensors are nonmagnetic, meaning that there is no possibility of experiments being interfered with by a magnetic field—a problem with current SNS equipment.

“The Department of Energy is very interested in the ability to use the sensors because they are smaller, faster, and more cost efficient than tubes,” McFarlane said. “We use the same technology as the camera in your phone, which has the added benefit of not being magnetic.”

This array of benefits could have an enormous impact on neutron scattering research, which is used in the development of products as varied as cell phones, batteries, engines, bridge cables, and drugs.

It may be a while before McFarlane’s sensors are used in everyday life, but the award by the Department of Energy is a big step in the right direction.

CONTACT:

David Goddard (865-974-0683, david.goddard@utk.edu)

Megan Boehnke (865-974-3242, mboehnke@utk.edu)