Low-Cost, Wearable 'Lab On The Skin' Patch Monitors Health Through Sweat

First Posted: Nov 29, 2016 04:37 AM EST

A new flexible and wearable sensor analyzes sweat biomarkers and communicates health wirelessly to a smartphone. The first of its kind and low-cost "lab on the skin" can easily measure sweat to determine how a person is responding to exercise.

In a new study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, a team of researchers led by John Rogers at Northwestern University unveiled how the device, which can be used as a patch, can analyze sweat to assess important biomarkers. This will help people decide if they need to modify their physical activity and if they need certain adjustments like drinking more water or replenishing electrolytes in case something becomes medically wrong.

Health Monitoring Through Sweat Analysis

"The intimate skin interface created by this wearable, skin-like microfluidic system enables new measurement capabilities not possible with the kinds of absorbent pads and sponges currently used in sweat collection," John Rogers, lead author of the research, said in a press release by the Northwestern University.

Rogers added that sweat is a rich chemical broth that has many key chemical compounds with valuable physiological health information.

"The sweat analysis platform we developed will allow people to monitor their health on the spot without the need for a blood sampling and with integrated electronics that do not require a battery but still enable a wireless connection to a smartphone," Yonggang Huang, who worked on the device's design, added.

According to the IEEE Spectrum, the patch's readings collected by the sweat sensor were comparable to current lab-based standards during a trial on nine volunteers. Some health readings included were sweat loss, sweat rate, pH, which indicates hydration levels, and concentrations of certain elements like glucose, chloride and lactate.

The Future For The "Lab On The Skin" Sensor

There are many medical possibilities in store for the new sweat sensor. In fact, the researchers are currently in talks with a biomedical company on how the sensor could be used to have a bloodless pre-screening for certain diseases like diabetes.

The patch is designed to be worn once for a few hours as it is placed directly on the skin of the forearm. It could also detect the presence of a biomarker for a congenital disease, cystic fibrosis. Soon, this patch might become a diagnostic tool for various health conditions without the need for needles and blood extractions.

The researchers are conducting additional studies with a sports beverage company, and the U.S. Air Force is now testing more advanced versions of the sensors to be worn by active airmen at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

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