Wearable Sweat Sensor Detects Inflammation

Researchers at Caltech have developed a wearable, noninvasive sensor that monitors.

Image credit: Caltech

Our world has changed in ways we never could have predicted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The technology significantly impacts every aspect of our everyday life, including remote work and virtual interactions. The incorporation of remote healthcare has emerged as a game-changing approach that provides ease, accessibility, and improved patient outcomes as we navigate through this pandemic and beyond.

Temperature checks became a common screening technique in public locations including airports, workplaces, and schools during the pandemic. Fever, an elevated body temperature, is frequently used as a sign of inflammation. Our immune system responds to viruses like SARS-CoV-2 by releasing cytokines and other inflammatory chemicals. Fever may result from this immunological activation raising the body temperature. However, not everyone with inflammation notices a notable increase in body temperature, emphasizing the necessity for other techniques of inflammatory monitoring.

For regular at-home monitoring, measuring inflammation has traditionally required invasive blood tests with lengthy turnaround times. But what if there was a non-invasive, real-time solution that could give us insightful knowledge about the level of inflammation in our bodies?

Researchers from the California Institute of Technology, Caltech, have developed InflaStat, a wearable, noninvasive sensor that monitors for a biomarker of inflammation in the wearer’s sweat. They say the device could be used at home by people with chronic inflammatory diseases, reports New Atlas.

Before starting to create their ground-breaking sweat-analyzing sensor, the researchers had to overcome some challenges. The key one is that other chemicals can be detected more easily than CRP. Because its molecules are larger and it is present in the blood at much lower concentrations than other biomarkers, it is more difficult to secrete them into sweat.

“Those were the main issues that prevented people from doing wearable CRP sensing before,” said Wei Gao, corresponding author of the study. “We need high sensitivity to monitor very low-concentration CRP automatically on the skin.”

The InflaStat is built of laser-engraved graphene with a lot of surface area and microscopic pores. In addition to special chemicals known as redox molecules that can produce a little electric current under specific circumstances, the pores also contain antibodies that connect with CRP. Gold nanoparticles with distinct sets of CRP-detecting antibodies are included into the sensor's structure.

When CRP molecules from the wearer's perspiration reach the sensor, they bind to both the antibodies in the detector and the pores of the graphene, which act as a detector. Once bonded to the graphene, the nanoparticles cause the redox molecules to produce an electrical current, which is detected by the sensor's electronic components.

The signal, which is very faint, is greatly enhanced compared to the signal that would be produced by a single CRP molecule since each gold nanoparticle includes several detection antibodies.

The researchers tested the InflaStat on healthy participants, patients with COPD, and participants who recovered from a COVID infection. They found that the sensor was comfortable to wear and could obtain inflammatory biomarker information noninvasively and wirelessly.

“We investigated sweat CRP levels of healthy individuals and patients with different inflammatory conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart failure, and active and past infections. We observed substantial elevation in sweat CRP from patients with various inflammatory conditions and found a strong connection between the levels of CRP in sweat and blood. This exciting finding suggests that monitoring sweat CRP levels could be a promising approach for detecting and tracking chronic and acute inflammation in the body,” the researchers wrote.

“By capturing this valuable data, we can take proactive steps toward managing our health, detecting early signs of inflammation-related diseases, and making informed decisions about our well-being. The future of remote healthcare is at our fingertips, quite literally, and it promises to transform the way we understand and care for our bodies.”

The study was published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

Sam Draper
July 10, 2023

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