Light-Based pH Sensor Glows With Promise

Skip the litmus paper—a new type of pH sensor, based on light and under development by an international research team, could both give users instant visual readout and record a signal over time without disturbing biological systems being monitored (Sens. Actuators B, doi: 10.1016/j.snb.2019.127076). The researchers believe that their proof-of-concept device could also form the design basis for other types of sensors.

Such a versatile pH sensor, according to coauthor Zeeshan Ahmed, a chemist at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), could have applications in tissue engineering or for monitoring the progression of diseases like cancer. Monitoring critical properties of tissue like pH, he says, could greatly benefit studies aimed at the ability to grow teeth, heart tissue, bone tissue, and more.

“Our primary motivation is to develop a range of non-destructive measurement tools that would allow tissue engineers to track the health of their cell culture without the need to ever disturb it, either by taking the cells or the instrumentation out of the incubator,” Ahmed says. “We started with pH, because it was at the top of our collaborators wish list. Next up might be a calcium ion detector for studying bone formation.”

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