Health monitors take various shapes and forms in our daily lives. Devices such as Apple watches, FitBits, and other health applications/accessories have become very popular for tracking heart rate, steps, and other health concerns. However, a new invention could revolutionize the health monitor field. 

A new skin patch was recently developed by engineers at the University of California San Diego. It’s the first wearable device (created to be worn on the neck) that can monitor cardiovascular signals and various biochemical levels simultaneously.

 

So what exactly is this new technology?

The skin patch is constructed by stretchy polymers formed into a thin sheet, allowing for ease in applying to the skin. The technology includes built-in blood pressure sensors and chemical sensors for measuring lactate levels, caffeine and alcohol levels in sweat, and glucose levels in the interstitial fluids.

Thanks to these sensors, the patch is able to measure three parameters at once: blood pressure, glucose levels, and either lactate, alcohol, or caffeine levels. Future iterations could perhaps allow all 5 parameters to be detected at the same time. 

The different sensors use a combination of ultrasound transducers and electrodes to detect and monitor health levels and went through multiple rounds of testing to ensure accuracy and reliability.

 

How does this differ from other health monitors?

Unlike other monitors that usually focus on one specific goal, such as tracking heart rate or blood pressure, the nano-engineers at UCSD have found a way to combine completely different sensors onto a single, small skin patch. This makes this new innovation very versatile and able to collect copious amounts of information in the form of a non-invasive, wearable device. 

This new technology is the product of a joint effort by the UC San Diego Center for Wearable Sensors, where Director Jonathan Wang’s lab has been developing wearable sensors for multiple chemical, physical, and electrophysiological signals, and the UCSD nanoengineering lab led by professor Shang Xu, where researchers have been developing a soft, stretchy electronic skin patch for monitoring blood pressure. The labs together were able to create the first wearable, flexible device that can combine chemical sensors of glucose, lactate, alcohol, and caffeine with blood pressure monitoring as well. 

By integrating all of the physical and chemical sensors into one patch, researchers are able to get a more comprehensive picture of a person’s health.

 

Who is this device geared towards?

According to researcher Lu Yin, a Ph.D. student at UCSD for nanoengineering, this type of skin patch can be very helpful for people with underlying medical conditions to help them “monitor their own health on a regular basis”. It could also be utilized for remote patient monitoring, which is especially useful in our current pandemic in order to minimize the amount of in-person visits needed. This may be useful for individuals at higher risk for COVID, often managing diabetes or high blood pressure, and could potentially detect sepsis (which is a dangerous sudden drop in blood pressure and rise in lactate levels).

Additionally, the patch could serve as a convenient alternative for intensive care patients, such as infants in the NICU, who need continuous monitoring for vital signs. The patch would essentially replace all the catheters and current procedures needed to monitor patients in hospitals.

 

What’s next?

The team is already working on the next version of the patch, which will include more sensors, such as biomarkers for specific diseases in order to add more clinical value to the device. In addition, they are developing methods to shrink the electronics for the blood pressure sensor in an effort to ultimately make everything on the patch wireless (with no need for external power source).

This wearable patch is revolutionizing the health monitor industry and could continue to change the healthcare industry once it’s adapted for a more clinical setting.

 

 

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