Drawing blood and testing it is standard practice for many medical diagnostics, but no one likes the process. Children especially are traumatized by the sight of a needle. As a less painful alternative, scientists have developed skin patches that could one day replace the syringe. No poking or prodding necessary anymore, all you need is a smartphone.
A team led by University of Cincinnati Professor Jason Heikenfeld and the US Air Force Research Laboratory have created a flexible adhesive patch, something like a band-aid, which can transmit all the medical data a doctor could possible need. The patch uses a microfluidic paper-based sampling system to gain information about your body fluids’composition. The information is processed and gathered by a controller chip, which then uses an electronic circuit to send it to an antenna which in turn sends it over the air to a smartphone or any other supported device nearby. The patch only needs to be strapped to your skin.
You might be wondering what if you don’t happen to be sweating. Well, these researchers have thought of it all, and the patch has a superabsorbent hydrogel incorporated in it so it keeps absorbing respiration for hours. As for power, it gets it from whatever smartphone is in the area. Basically, you would wear the patch during a normal work day and later deliver it to your doctor along with the recorded data on your handset.
Currently the patch measures sodium and chloride concentrations but future versions should be able to detect amino acids, metabolites, electrolytes, proteins and even small molecules. The technology could one day be used for applications such as keeping athletes from cramping up by monitoring their electrolyte levels, non-invasively keeping tabs on premature infants’vital signs, allowing diabetics to watch their glucose levels, or for fine-tuning medication dosages by measuring drug metabolites in the patient’s sweat.
Human trials of the system are expected to begin later this year and a second –generation patch is almost complete, which communicates with the phone via Bluetooth. The size of the patch is about the length of your palm and half as wide, so you’ll want to wear a long-sleeved shirt while wearing it. Now at least you won’t need to bleed for your doctor anymore.