Crystal skin patch monitors cardiac health (Wired UK)


The crystal-infused patch picks up subtle changes in temperature to indicate blood flow rate
The crystal-infused patch picks up subtle changes in temperature to indicate blood flow rateShutterstock


A team of environmental engineers has
developed a patch populated with liquid crystals that can be worn
on the skin to provide realtime health
alerts.

Writing in the journal Nature Communications, a team from Northwestern University
and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign describe a medical
device that combines colour-changing temperature indicators (the
crystals) with “wireless stretchable
electronics”, in order to pick up the subtlest of temperature
changes to the skin, which can help determine blood flow rate.

The latter, is key to assessing cardiovascular health and is
used to monitor people with coronary artery diseases or patients
post-cardiovascular surgery. Methods of measuring the blood flow
rate range from capillary microscoping, which requires a subject to
be at the doctor’s surgery to carry out video analysis, or laser
Doppler velocimetry — again, involving heavy duty equipment. The
Northwestern and Illinois team believes it has developed a strategy
for continuous monitoring that’s easy going on the patient and,
most importantly, portable.

The 5cm3 patch is made up of 3,600 tiny liquid crystals aligned on a stretchy and soft
substrate. Crystals were used because of their colour-changing
properties, impacted by temperature. They needed 3,600 crystals to
account for the different dispersions across a patch of skin, to
get an accurate representation of the blood flow underneath.
According to the team, it’s this breadth that allows results that
are on a level with infrared imaging techniques that would
ordinarily be carried out by a doctor.

The wireless electronics transmit
data gathered, so that an algorithm can translate it into a
diagnosis in 30 seconds. For now, the researchers suggest in the
Nature Communications paper that the readings be combined
with data from a digital camera to help understand “underlying
thermal processes near the skin surface”. However, if the liquid
crystals change colour significantly, the wearer will immediately
know something is awry.

Beyond cardiovascular problems, the patch
could also be used to take skin hydration levels, the team
suggests, taking its applications into the commercial, cosmetic
sector. Though, being alerted to your extremely dry skin is not
quite as sexy as realtime cardiovascular health
monitoring. 

“One can imagine cosmetics companies being interested in the
ability to measure skin’s dryness in a portable and non-intrusive
way,” said Yonggang Huang Joseph Cummings Professor of Civil and
Environmental Engineering and Mechanical Engineering at
Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.
“This is the first device of its kind… Our device is mechanically
invisible — it is ultrathin and comfortable — much like skin
itself.”

“These results provide the first examples of ‘epidermal’
photonic sensors,” adds John A. Rogers, co-author from the
University of Illinois. “This technology significantly expands the
range of functionality in skin-mounted devices beyond that possible
with electronics alone.”

Skin sensor technology is already being used in
temperature-measuring systems used by fertility companies, but these are obviously of a more low-fi
quality that the technology described in Nature
Communications
. It is, however, an example of continuous
monitoring in action already today, which is what the
Northwestern-Illinois team is trying to achieve. There are devices
that aim to do this for diabetics, in a far more intrusive manner
though of course. The benefit of the crystal-infused patch is in
its ease-of-use — if it’s proven to be clinically safe, that
is.

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25 September 2014 | 3:00 pm – Source: wired.co.uk

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