Individuals with bipolar disorder and depression may soon have the option of wearing a unique ready-to-go sensor designed to safely monitor their lithium drug levels.

Lithium is an antipsychotic drug often prescribed to treat mood disorders such as bipolar disorder and depression. The medication must be carefully monitored when given to patients, as the wrong dose could prove to be highly toxic.

After the first dose, lithium concentration levels should be checked in five to seven days. This is followed by weekly checks until levels stabilize between two doses. Once stability is established, drug levels are typically monitored every three months.

In a new study, English researchers from the University of Surrey developed the first miniature, fiber-based sensor conveniently ready to test lithium levels without any prep work. Unlike the current non-wearable sensors on the market, there is no need for pre-conditioning of the sensor in solution for hours beforehand or on a daily basis.

The new wearable sensors were shown to quickly and accurately detect lithium concentration levels from clinically effective to toxic concentration limits. The sensor is able to detect lithium concentration in the blood even if there is a high concentration of sodium.

“We believe that our new sensors will help many people across the world living with mood disorders, such as bipolar and depression,” said Dr. Carol Crean, senior lecturer in Physical and Material Chemistry at the University of Surrey in England.

“Our sensors will give those who are receiving treatment the opportunity to monitor their lithium levels with a stable and easy to use wearable sensor. They will give people a real alternative to the currently available invasive blood samples, making monitoring their lithium levels as easy as putting on a T-shirt.”

In a given year, bipolar disorder affects around 5.7 million American adults, or about 2.6 percent of the United States population 18 and older, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). An estimated 16.2 million adults in the U.S. had at least one major depressive episode; this number represents 6.7 percent of all U.S. adults.

In the United Kingdom, there were 4 million cases of mood disorders, including bipolar and depression, according to the Mental Health Foundation. Major depression is thought to be the leading cause of disability worldwide.

The findings are published in the journal ACS Sensors.

Source: University of Surrey