Unlike typical medical sweat sensors that require patients to exercise or experience high levels of heat in order to produce sweat, the new device stimulates and localizes the sweat produced to a small patch of skin. As a result, users can go about their normal activities while still being continuously monitored.
Sweat – unlike tears or saliva – is said to contain much of the same useful information for monitoring health as blood, but typically without the same consistency of results. The new device is aimed at offering a non-invasive and convenient alternative to the “gold standard” of blood analysis.
“Imagine being able to monitor cardiac patients after they have been released from the hospital, preventing dehydration in athletes, or even helping ensure that your body is getting the exact right concentrations of a prescription drug,” says UC professor Jason Heikenfeld, one of the developers of the device.
About the size of a Band-Aid, the sensor uses a chemical stimulant to cause the sweat glands of the exposed skin to produce sweat, without otherwise affecting the patient wearing the device. Then the concentrations of sweat electrolytes are measured and recorded. According to the researchers, the device can also potentially be used to predict a patient’s sweat generation rate, and opens the door for side-by-side integration of chemical stimulants and sensors without cross-contamination.
“The challenge is not only coming up with new technological breakthroughs like this, but also bringing all these technology solutions together in a reliable and manufacturable device,” says Heikenfeld, who has also co-founded Eccrine Systems, a biosensor company focused on developing and commercializing non-invasive, electronic wearable systems that measure and transmit real-time data about human sweat.
In addition to medical patient and athletic performance monitoring, the researchers say the sensor could be used to perform regular post-surgical health monitoring at home, or to measure levels of stress by tracking changes in hormones such as cortisol. In fact, they say, the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base has already expressed interest in measuring cortisol levels in pilots facing mentally and physically stressful situations.
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