Engineers at the University of California San Diego have developed a soft, stretchy skin patch that can be worn on the neck to continuously track cardiovascular signals and multiple biochemicals levels at the same time.
The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasised the value of telehealth and wearable sensors. Wearables offer features that can actively and remotely monitor physiological parameters. They can generate data continuously without any interruptions to daily activity. This can enhance compliance and improve the quality of patient care.
Several papers have reported the use of wearable sensors to monitor single physical parameters such as blood pressure. The importance of integrating multiple sensors into a single device has also been shown. This pioneering work has led to a shift towards the combination of different sensor modalities.
While recent efforts have integrated physical and chemical sensors into a single wearable device, there has been no in-depth study of the correlation of cardiovascular parameters with biomarker levels.
Wearable skin patch
In this study, published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, researchers presented a stretchable and integrated wearable sensor that can monitor blood pressure, heart rate and the levels of glucose, lactate, caffeine and alcohol. Specifically, this sensor uses ultrasonic transducers to monitor blood pressure and heart rate, and electrochemical sensors to measure the levels of biomarkers. Their design overcomes engineering challenges related to the integration of different sensing modalities and the materials also allow real-time monitoring.
The team recruited human volunteers to wear the patch on their neck while performing various combinations of tasks. These included exercising on a stationary bicycle, eating a high sugar meal and drinking an alcoholic or caffeinated beverage. From this, the team found that the device was able to capture the physiological effects of food intake and exercise. For example, the production of glucose after food and the increase in blood pressure and heart rate during exercise.
This device offers comprehensive tracking of the effect of daily activities and stimuli on the physiological status of the user. It also enables the collection of previously unavailable data towards understanding the body’s response to such stimuli.
This device could benefit individuals managing high blood pressure and diabetes. In addition, it could detect the onset of sepsis, which can be characterised by a sudden drop in blood pressure with a rapid rise in lactate levels. The patch could also offer a convenient alternative for patients in ICU who need continuous monitoring.
The team are already working on a new version of the patch, with even more sensors. Co-first author Juliane Sempionatto stated: “There are opportunities to monitor other biomarkers associated with various diseases. We are looking to add more clinical value to this device.”
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