New sensor technology to diagnose reproductive health problems in real-time

Measuring hormones that affect fertility.

Women’s normal reproductive functioning is critically dependent on pulsatile secretion of luteinizing hormone (LH). Assessment of LH pulsatility is important for the clinical diagnosis of reproductive disorders, but current methods are hampered by frequent blood sampling coupled to expensive serial immunochemical analysis.

Imperial Scientists have recently devised a robotic sensor technology that can potentially diagnose women’s reproductive health problems in real-time. As the reports suggested, this sensor technology could also be used for measuring fertility affecting hormones, sexual development, and menstruation more quickly.

In England, a third of women suffer from severe reproductive health problems such as infertility and early menopause. Doctors usually diagnose these conditions by carrying out a blood test to measure the amount of luteinizing hormone (LH) in the sample.

The problem with current blood tests is they cannot easily measure the rise and fall of LH levels which is vital for normal fertility. Moreover, they not currently feasible to measure LH pulse patterns in a clinical setting as doctors need to take a blood sample from patients every 10 minutes for at least eight hours. They are also time-consuming.

This new sensor technology- also known as Robotic APTamer-enabled Electrochemical Reader (RAPTER)- has the potential to transform the clinical care of patients with reproductive disorders by monitoring the hormone patterns of patients in real-time.

During the experiment, scientists used the device to measure LH in the blood of patients taken every ten minutes to yield an immediate result.

Scientists noted, “It could pave the way for more personalized medicine. They hope that the technology can be developed to give clinicians a clearer picture of LH pulsatility and suggest more effective treatments based on an individual’s needs.”

Professor Imperial College London, said, “Reproductive health issues are common amongst women in the UK and around the world. Diagnosis of some of these conditions can be lengthy resulting in delays to treatment. Reproductive health issues can also impact on women’s mental and physical wellbeing.”

“There is a clear need for new and better ways to diagnose these conditions more quickly. Our technology will be able to give clinicians a faster and more accurate diagnosis of hormone pulsatility that affects reproductive health, which could lead to better and more targeted treatments for women.”

During the experiments, the RAPTER platform was able to detect changes in LH pulse patterns in patients with reproductive disorders. It was also able to distinguish between different patient cohorts for the first time using this new technology.

Scientists are now planning to work on refining the technology to create a smaller sensor similar to a glucose monitoring device that can be used to continuously track changes to LH levels of patients in the clinic or remotely and could be available in the next three to five years.

Professor Tony Cass, a senior author on the study from the Chemistry Department at Imperial College London, said: “We have developed technology that is able to measure LH pulsatility in patients more quickly and cheaply than current methods. We will now work towards making the technology more accessible for the clinic by reducing the size of the device, which could revolutionise the clinical care of patients with reproductive or other disorders.”

Dr. Julian Tanner, a senior author on the study from the LKS Faculty of Medicine at The University of Hong Kong, added that the technology could also be developed to monitor other hormones such as cortisol. He added: “The detection methodology that we have developed for LH sensing is widely applicable for real-time monitoring of all kinds of biomolecules that relate to health and wellbeing. Excitingly, with further research, this technology could be adapted for implanted sensors that could transform health monitoring in all kinds of contexts.”

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

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