Announcement: Human Augmentation—New Technology Area

Explorer introduces a new technology area: Human Augmentation. Emerging human-augmentation technologies will aid healthy people as well as people with reduced abilities, and are poised to be highly disruptive across society and many industries—but their use will raise many questions over how the law, regulations, and ethics should apply. Read more


Archived Viewpoints











About This Technology

Biosensors represent a powerful technological development in analytical measurement. Biosensors have the ability to measure the presence, absence, or concentration of specific organic or inorganic substances and to do so accurately, with rapid response time, and with high levels of specificity. Their perceived advantages over existing technologies include the ability to monitor broad or narrow spectra of analytes in real time and to allow decentralized analyte testing at the level of single-molecule interactions. Their perceived weaknesses include the instability of the biological molecules outside their natural environment, which results in a restricted shelf life and intensive research and development requirements.

Biosensors find commercial application in the areas of health care, food-quality control, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and environmental monitoring and greatest use in health care—especially in patient monitoring. A common requirement of all these applications is on-site analysis, preferably on a real-time basis. The resulting benefits of closer monitoring range from a more efficient industrial-productions process to better-informed legislation on safety standards and population exposure to chemical and biological hazards. However, the market demand for biosensors in nonhealth applications will accelerate only when cheap and reliable biosensor technologies become available. The apparent opportunities in biosensor commercialization have led to interest by many large electronic and life-sciences companies. However, without the technical skills, the delivery channels, or a unique, differentiated, biosensor offering, players will have great difficulty in entering the market. Given the cost and complexity of biosensor development, a model of strategic cooperation is finding wide adoption.

Bottlenecks in the technical development of biosensors include the difficulty of fabricating devices in bulk and the single- or restricted multiple-use nature of most biosensors currently available (leading to the need continuously to repurchase device components as well as consumables). In addition, the combination of electronic and biological components in a working device is difficult and expensive to achieve and requires significant cross-discipline research. The high cost of biosensor development reduces the potential for biosensor use in low-cost applications. Because several competing technologies to biosensors exist (including dipstick tests and such laboratory techniques as spectrophotometry), the commercial success of biosensors hinges on their use in applications where they have a unique performance advantage such as simplicity of use, greater sensitivity, faster response time, or the ability to monitor an analyte continuously. Even in the largest markets (such as glucose monitoring) that biosensors can access, competition on price or technology alone is unlikely to form the basis of a successful strategy.