University of California San Diego (UCSD) engineers have developed a skin patch that can be worn on the neck to track blood pressure and heart rate while monitoring the user's glucose, lactate, alcohol or caffeine levels. It is the first wearable device that monitors cardiovascular signals and multiple biochemical levels in the human body at the same time.
The researchers said the device could benefit individuals who are managing both high blood pressure and diabetes, especially because they are at high risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19, according to the study published this month in Nature Biomedical Engineering.
“This type of wearable would be very helpful for people with underlying medical conditions to monitor their own health on a regular basis,” said Lu Yin, a nanoengineering PhD student at UCSD and co-first author of the study. “It would also serve as a great tool for remote patient monitoring, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when people are minimizing in-person visits to the clinic.”
One soft skin patch that can do it all would also offer a convenient alternative for patients in intensive care units, including infants in the NICU, who need continuous monitoring of blood pressure and other vital signs. These procedures currently involve inserting catheters deep inside patients’ arteries and tethering patients to multiple hospital monitors, reports Liezel Labios in UCSD News.
The new patch is a product of two pioneering efforts in the UC San Diego Center for Wearable Sensors, for which Wang serves as director. Wang’s lab has been developing wearables capable of monitoring multiple signals simultaneously—chemical, physical and electrophysiological—in the body. And in the lab of UC San Diego nanoengineering professor Sheng Xu, researchers have been developing soft, stretchy electronic skin patches that can monitor blood pressure deep inside the body. By joining forces, the researchers created the first flexible, stretchable wearable device that combines chemical sensing (glucose, lactate, alcohol, and caffeine) with blood pressure monitoring.
“Each sensor provides a separate picture of a physical or chemical change. Integrating them all in one wearable patch allows us to stitch those different pictures together to get a more comprehensive overview of what’s going on in our bodies,” said Xu, who is also a co-corresponding author of the study.
The patch is a thin sheet of stretchy polymers that can conform to the skin. It is equipped with a blood pressure sensor and two chemical sensors—one that measures levels of lactate (a biomarker of physical exertion), caffeine, and alcohol in sweat, and another that measures glucose levels in interstitial fluid.
The team is already at work on a new version of the patch, one with even more sensors. “There are opportunities to monitor other biomarkers associated with various diseases. We are looking to add more clinical value to this device,” Sempionatto said. They are also working to make the patch completely wireless.