Health monitoring via tattoo wearables

October 23, 2015

Researchers from the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas have invented an inexpensive and fast method for producing wearable patches that monitor the body’s vital signs, potentially outperforming traditional monitoring tools such as cardiac event monitors.

Led by Assistant Professor Nanshu Lu, the team’s manufacturing method aims to construct disposable tattoo-like health monitoring patches for the mass production of epidermal electronics, a popular technology that Lu helped develop in 2011.

These devices have the ability to pick up and transmit the human body’s vital signals, tracking heart rate, hydration level, muscle movement, temperature and brain activity.

Until now, the manufacturing process for creating wearable biosensors was expensive and time consuming, hampering the wearables’ potential. According to Assistant Professor Lu, this made it nearly impossible to develop disposable sensors to temporarily monitor health outcomes, as the process was too long and expensive.

“One of the most attractive aspects of epidermal electronics is their ability to be disposable,” Lu said. “If you can make them inexpensively, say for $1, then more people will be able to use them more frequently. This will open the door for a number of mobile medical applications and beyond.”
During testing the patches picked up body signals that were stronger than those taken by existing medical devices, including an ECG/EKG.

Deji Akinwande, an associate professor and materials expert in the Cockrell School, believes Lu’s method can be transferred to roll-to-roll manufacturing.
“These initial prototype patches can be adapted to roll-to-roll manufacturing that can reduce the cost significantly for mass production,” Akinwande said. “In this light, Lu’s invention represents a major advancement for the mobile health industry.”
The University of Texas wearable patches are so sensitive that Lu and her team can envision humans wearing the patches to more easily maneuver a prosthetic hand or limb using muscle signals.
For now, Lu said, “We are trying to add more types of sensors including blood pressure and oxygen saturation monitors to the low-cost patch.”
Source: UT News – The University of Texas at Austin