Feb. 15 (UPI) -- Scientists have developed a new skin patch that can provide all-in-one health monitoring capabilities.
The thin, flexible patch, worn on the neck, can track the wearer's heart rate and blood pressure, as well as glucose levels.
The technology, described Monday in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering, can even measure the amount of lactate, alcohol or caffeine in the wearer's blood.
"This type of wearable would be very helpful for people with underlying medical conditions to monitor their own health on a regular basis," co-first author of the study Lu Yin said in a news release.
"It would also serve as a great tool for remote patient monitoring, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when people are minimizing in-person visits to the clinic," Yin, a nano-engineering doctoral student at the University of California, San Diego.
In addition to monitoring chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as pinpointing the onset of sepsis, the patch could help predict people at risk of becoming severely ill with COVID-19.
Wearable devices are often designed for health monitoring outside of medical facilities, but the new technology could also be used in medical settings.
Infants in the NICU require intensive health monitoring, for example, with researchers suggesting the patch could offer comprehensive health mentoring without the need for a tangle of tubes and catheters.
"The novelty here is that we take completely different sensors and merge them together on a single small platform as small as a stamp," said co-corresponding study author Joseph Wang.
"We can collect so much information with this one wearable and do so in a non-invasive way, without causing discomfort or interruptions to daily activity," said Wang, a professor of nano-engineering at UCSD.
To build their wearable device, researchers embedded several different tiny sensors in a thin sheet of stretchy polymers.
At the center of the patch lies the blood pressure sensor, which features a pair of small ultrasound transducers. The two transducers bounce ultrasound waves off an artery and measure the rebounding waves to calculate blood pressure.
A pair of screen-printed electrodes work as chemical sensors.
One of the sensors uses a a drug called pilocarpine to induce sweating, allowing it to measure levels of lactate, caffeine and alcohol in the sweat released by the skin beneath the patch.
The other electrode sensor uses a tiny electric shock to induce the release of interstitial fluid, which is used to measure glucose.
"We chose parameters that would give us a more accurate, more reliable blood pressure measurement," said co-first author Juliane Sempionatto.
"Let's say you are monitoring your blood pressure, and you see spikes during the day and think that something is wrong. But a biomarker reading could tell you if those spikes were due to an intake of alcohol or caffeine. This combination of sensors can give you that type of information," said Sempionatto, a nano-engineering doctoral student in Wang's lab.
To prevent interference among the signals from the different sensors, researchers used solid gel barriers.
"Finding the right materials, optimizing the overall layout, integrating the different electronics together in a seamless fashion -- these challenges took a lot of time to overcome," said co-first author Muyang Lin.
"We are fortunate to have this great collaboration between our lab and Professor Wang's lab. It has been so fun working together with them on this project," said Lin, also nano-engineering doctoral student at UCSD.
The researchers are next working to shrink the electronics on the current patch, in addition to developing new biomarker sensors to add to an even more comprehensive health monitoring patch that can monitor biomarkers associated with an even larger variety of diseases.