A soft, wearable patch measures the chemical contents of sweat on the skin. It could be used to screen for cystic fibrosis, and give athletes real-time performance data.CreditCreditJ. Rogers, Northwestern University
The article first appeared on The New York Times.
Someday soon, perhaps within a year, you’ll be able to slap a soft, stretchy patch on to your arm that tells you if you’re dehydrated. Or that your electrolytes are dangerously out of balance. Or even that you have diabetes.
Fitness trackers such as Fitbit and Apple Watch already track step counts, heart rate and sleep rhythms. But they tend to be rigid and bulky, and mostly gather mechanical metrics, rather than assess a person’sunderlying biology.
A new generation of devices instead aim to analyze sweat for many chemicals at once, producing a real-time snapshot of the wearer’s health or fitness. These devices also fit intimately against the skin, and are comfortable for anyone, from premature babies to the elderly. One version is already being advertised by Gatorade.
The latest advance in this technology, described Friday in the journal Science Advances, provides real-time information on the wearer’s pH, sweat rate, and levels of chloride, glucose and lactate — high levels of which could signal cystic fibrosis, diabetes or a lack of oxygen.
“It fits into a broader trend that you’re seeing in medicine, which is personalized, tailored approaches to treatment and delivery of care,” said John Rogers, a biomedical engineer at Northwestern University in Illinois and the key architect of the device.
Technology like this has been anticipated for years, but the field has accelerated rapidly. Some similar devices in development are soft. Some use electric sensors to read chemicals. Others rely on colorimetrics, in which the intensity of the color in the readout matches the concentration of the chemical being monitored. The new device delivers all of that in a battery-free and wireless form.
“This looks like the first version in which they integrated all of it in one device,” said Martin Kaltenbrunner, an engineering professor at Joannes Kepler University Linz, in Austria, who was not involved in the research. “The level of technology that is in this paper is very, very advanced.”
The new device has minuscule holes at its base into which sweat naturally flows. From there, a complex network of valves and microchannels, each roughly the width of a human hair, route the sweat into tiny reservoirs. Each reservoir contains a sensor that reacts with a chemical in the sweat, such as glucose or lactate.
“That’s basically it,” Dr. Rogers said. “There’s nothing that penetrates the skin, and there’s no power supply that’s driving flow.”
The device relies on the same technology that smartphones use to send wireless payments; the phone can both deliver power through this wireless coupling, and receives data back. Alternatively, the data could be sent to a reader attached to a treadmill or elsewhere in a fitness room — and, perhaps eventually, to a reader much farther away.
Read the full article on The New York Times.