An ultrathin, electronic patch applied to the wrist can measure activity in the brain, heart, and muscles.
Monitoring heart arrhythmia and sleep disorders isn’t exactly new to health diagnosis, but it can be an uncomfortable experience for patients who have to be hooked up to various wires and sensors. Effective as it may be, a noninvasive approach would put the patient at ease. John A. Rogers, a professor of materials science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has led a team of international researchers who have developed a skin-like prototype of an electronic temporary tattoo to do just that. Measuring activity in the brain, heart and muscles, the innovation could cut down on the number of wires and cables medical personnel use to monitor patients and other applications.
The micro-electronics technology, called an epidermal electronic system (EES) and described in the journal, Science contains a circuit that bends, wrinkles and stretches with the mechanical properties of skin. The researchers demonstrated their concept through a diverse array of electronic components mounted on a thin, rubbery substrate, including sensors, LEDs, transistors, radio frequency capacitors, wireless antennas, and conductive coils and solar cells for power. The patches are initially mounted on a thin sheet of water-soluble plastic, then laminated to the skin with water – just like applying a temporary tattoo. Alternately, the electronic components can be applied directly to a temporary tattoo itself, providing concealment for the electronics.
In addition to gathering data, skin-mounted electronics could provide the wearers with added capabilities. For example, patients with muscular or neurological disorders, such as ALS, could use them to communicate or to interface with computers. The researchers found that, when applied to the skin of the throat, the sensors could distinguish muscle movement for simple speech.
Lead researcher John A. Rogers explains:
The vision is to exploit these concepts in systems that have self-contained, integrated functionality, perhaps ultimately working in a therapeutic fashion with closed feedback control based on integrated sensors, in a coordinated manner with the body itself.