A collaboration between scientists from University of Cincinnati and US Air Force Research Laboratory, under the leadership of Professor Jason Heikenfeld (University of Cincinnati), has come up with a system that is capable of gathering information from user’s body and then transmitting it to a smartphone in real-time without employing any invasive approach. The gadget that they have come up with is basically similar to a Band-Aid and is just like a patch.
This patch is adhesive in nature and quite flexible while sporting an electronic circuit, controller chip, microfluidic paper based sweat sampling system and a communications antenna. The aforementioned paper works by wicking tiny quantities of sweat from the skin using sensors similar to a tree root, thus allowing to increase the sampling area as much as possible.
To ensure that the sweat maintains its flow through the paper for the required amount of time rather than simply saturating it, a hydrogel that has characteristics of being a super-absorbent has been added to the patch, allowing the patch to draw in and then accumulate the perspiration sample. This retention is maintained even after hours of collecting sweat and, reportedly, the gel only swells by 2-3 millimeters even after a number of hours.
Now to the important question; where does it draw the power from? Well, it works like a passive RFID tag and draws the power from a nearby smartphone’s signal. When the smartphone is in the range of the patch, it starts working by monitoring and calculating ion concentrations of given biomarkers that are in the sweat. The prototype currently available has been created so that it is capable of measuring sodium and chloride concentrations while the information available implies that the future versions shall be able to measure electrolytes, proteins, amino acids, small molecules and metabolites.
The data is transmitted to the accompanying app on a smartphone wirelessly and once the biomarker ion has been analyzed, it becomes possible to find out the physical state of the patient. The future applications so far include keeping tabs on athletes’ health to make sure they don’t cramp up and to also monitor young babies without using any invasive technique. Human trials are scheduled to start later this year while a second generation patch has been almost finalized, which will communicate with the smartphone via Bluetooth.
A pretty cool new invention, isn’t it?