Lithium is a common treatment for certain mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder and depression. In fact, lithium is the most common treatment for bipolar disorder. This common medication works by helping reduce the severity of symptoms related to bipolar disorder, including depressive episodes. It’s thought to work within a person’s central nervous system to help stabilize mood.
However, lithium must be used in a very precise fashion. That is, the dose of lithium used must be accurate, with a fine line between an effective dose and ineffective dose that can lead to unpleasant side effects. This has posed challenges to clinicians seeking to ensure a patient’s dosage is optimal, because it’s hard to regularly monitor lithium levels in a patient’s blood. The only options available at the moment include blood draws that are time consuming and don’t provide real-time insights. This also makes it harder for clinicians to make changes to a patient's dosage if the medication doesn’t appear to be working.
A team of researchers has developed a new tool that can detect and measure lithium levels on a consistent basis, which may help clinicians provide adequate dosing to their patients with bipolar disorder. Researchers presented their work at the recent meeting of the American Chemical Society.
The new device can be worn on the fingertip and measures lithium levels through a wearer's skin. Through the use of an ion-selective electrode, the device can detect lithium levels with a high degree of precision in less than a minute.
An initial challenge the team faced was the minimal amount of sweat present on the fingertip under normal circumstances. The device requires an aqueous environment to get accurate reads. A glycerol-based hydrogel was used to help create this environment and overcome this challenge.
Researchers hope that due to the prevalence of different kinds of devices that function based on touch, such as other wearables or smartphones, their device could be easily integrated into a person’s daily life with minimal interruptions.