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Creating A Better Wearable Alcohol Biosensor

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In the search for a wearable or otherwise discreet device capable of measuring blood alcohol levels in real time, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has issued the Wearable Alcohol Biosensor Challenge. The wearable biosensor will aid researchers, clinicians, therapists and individuals by providing more accurate data on how much an individual is drinking. NIAAA is part of the National Institutes of Health.

The winning prototype is expected to improve on existing technology by providing real-time monitoring in an inconspicuous package appealing to the general public. Presently, the biosensor bracelets commonly used in the criminal justice system are effective but cumbersome and only take readings every 30 minutes.

NIAAA is looking for innovation using a non-invasive design, which could take the form of jewelry, clothing, or another format located in contact with the body. The device must be able to measure blood alcohol level, interpret and store the data, or transmit it to a smartphone or other device by wireless transmission.

“This project is designed to stimulate investment from public and private sectors in the development of improved alcohol biosensors that will be appealing to researchers, treatment providers and individuals,” said George F. Koob, Ph.D., director of NIAAA.

A number of medical conditions are exacerbated by alcohol, including liver disease and HIV/AIDS. Research that seeks to understand the progression of these diseases and potential treatments depends on the ability to accurately measure alcohol use. Wearable alcohol biosensors will simplify the process for scientists, study participants, therapists and individuals.

Well-calibrated alcohol biosensors will provide an objective measure, while participants will be able to avoid the inconvenience and discomfort of having blood drawn at regular intervals. The data collected would also be more accurate than self-report. In addition, those concerned with their personal drinking, or in the counsel of a therapist, will be able to use the device without stigma.

Competition submissions (a working prototype, data proving functionality/reliability, and photos/videos) will be accepted until December 1, 2015. Judging is expected to begin in January 2016, with winners announced on or after February 15, 2016. The first prize winner will be awarded $200,000; second prize receives $100,000.