Wearable Health Tech

Future wearable health tech could measure gases released from the skin.

The first step toward developing the next generation of wearable health monitoring has been taken by scientists.

Most studies of human biomarkers, or indicators of a person’s health, use electrical impulses to detect substances secreted in sweat. Sensors that rely on perspiration, on the other hand, frequently require a large amount of it only to get a readout.

According to a new study, a wearable sensor could monitor a person’s health by detecting chemicals exhaled from their skin.

“It is completely non-invasive and completely passive on the behalf of the user,” said Anthony Annerino, lead author of the study and a graduate student in materials science and engineering at The Ohio State University.

Some wearable gadgets, such as smartwatches and fitness trackers, can already detect pulse rates and temperatures, but this team’s method would allow the technology to detect biomarkers linked to metabolic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.

Their findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One.

“Discerning health issues through the skin is really the ultimate frontier,” said study co-author Pelagia-Iren Gouma, professor of materials science and engineering. Gouma also leads the Smart Connected Health project, which aims to support research in health and medicine.

“The project still has a couple of years to go,” said Gouma. “But in six months, we should have proof of concept and in a year, we’d like to have it tested in people.”

According to her, the end outcome of the team’s research would be a little device that could be worn in low-sweat areas of the body, such as behind the ear or on the nails. Gouma expects technology and medicine to become even more linked as more people become accustomed to utilizing wearable devices in their daily lives.

“We are developing a new generation of skin sensors, and it will really be the new norm,” Gouma said.

Gouma and other scientists have long used the concentration of organic chemicals in our breath—a form of gas—as a health indicator. Blowing into a breathalyzer, which can test the amount of alcohol in a person’s blood or be used to detect viruses, is one example.

However, Annerino points out that such a device requires “active intent” and only delivers a “momentary snapshot” of the body. This team’s sensors can function on far lesser amounts of gaseous acetone emitted from the skin, compared to the number of chemicals we release when we breathe, he said.

Acetone is one of the compounds generated by the skin that can provide researchers with a wealth of information about the human body’s inner workings. Blood sugar levels and fat-burning rates have both been linked to acetone concentrations in the breath.

“This is an area of research that hasn’t been nearly as well developed yet, because we’re just now producing the technology to measure lower concentrations of these gases with high selectivity,”

Annerino said.

The researchers produced a film material consisting of plant cellulose derivatives and electroactive polymers to see if their sensors could detect fluctuating levels of these illuminating compounds (which would signal the existence of the gaseous molecules). This film can flex substantially depending on how much acetone is detected in its surroundings.

Annerino’s team subsequently tested the film’s sensitivity, selectivity, and repeatability by placing it over liquids containing ethanol (alcohol), acetone, and water.

“We found significant bias toward bending more upon exposure to certain chemicals over others,” said Annerino. This bending happens in milliseconds, and the researchers used machine learning and complex computational algorithms to accurately record and track the film’s bending response to the different chemical solutions

Their findings revealed that the films are capable of tracking long-term changes in the body. While we’re on the subject of metabolic rate sensors, another conceivable application would be to track ethanol, which can indicate liver illness in the body. More research is needed to see how the films employed in this study will operate as actual body sensors, the researchers.

The opportunity to make someone’s life easier was one of the reasons Annerino said he was so eager to get involved with the study. “Not every research study has an obvious impact on society and people’s lives, but that’s something that this project in particular really has,” he said.

Journal information:PLoS ONE

Source: Medical Express

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