Wearable biomedical devices hold the promise of allowing for continuous, remote patient monitoring in all kinds of settings. A variety of vital signs, including heart rate and its variability, body temperature, and the amount of sweat produced, can be measured. The problem is that a lot of these measurements are not particularly accurate when using devices that are made to stick to or wrap around a part of the body. The sensors tend to not conform to the skin as it flexes and move slightly along the skin, generating a great deal of signal noise.
Now, a team of researchers at the University of Houston has developed a way to simply write electronic circuits, including different kinds of body sensor, directly onto the skin. Using such an approach, the scientists have created fully functional sensing systems that can measure, with great accuracy and few artifacts, things such as skin hydration, electrophysiological signals, and body temperature. Other sensors still need to be developed using this technique, but once they’re designed there should simply be a template that the user can follow to generate new ones.
The data obtained using the new sensors seem to be nearly completely unaffected by movement, potentially allowing, for the first time, the gathering of highly accurate biomedical data when individuals are performing strenuous physical activities.
The technology relies on using three different inks extruded from a special pen. These inks can be used to create conducting pathways, semiconductors, and dielectrics. Combinations and special patterns lead to sensors.
One more potential use of this technology is on and around wounds. Running electricity through the inks helps to speed up healing, something the University of Houston researchers have already demonstrated in experiments.
Study in Nature Communications: Ultra-conformal drawn-on-skin electronics for multifunctional motion artifact-free sensing and point-of-care treatment