Healthcare in a Patch: How can Wearable Biosensors Improve Life?

Healthcare in a Patch: How can Wearable Biosensors Improve Life?

By Rajeswari Jayaraman

You can boost your sports performance if you monitor your heart rate and your body chemistry. You can meet your project deadlines if you control your mental and physiological stress levels and analyze them vs time. And, even at a party, you can stay fresh and energetic for more interpersonal success by scanning your alcohol or sugar level.

This is all becoming possible thanks to the advent of tiny wearable biosensors (WBS). The latest highlight in wearable biosensors is the development of a hybrid wearable device that can simultaneously monitor both biochemical and electrical signals in the human body. Simply put, the wearable biosensor uses a single patch inside a T-shirt to monitor our chemistry with other vitals like our heart rate. 

The Hybrid Device

Engineers at the University of California, San Diego have developed the first flexible and wearable hybrid device and named it as the Chem-Phys patch. The patch provides access to both electrocardiogram (ECG) signals and sweat lactate measurements in real-time. Such a device could have a wide range of applications ranging from athletes monitoring their fitness regime to doctors managing cardiovascular diseases of patients. This wearable biosensor is only a few square centimeters and can be conveniently worn on the chest. It communicates wirelessly with a smartphone, laptop or a smart watch.

Engineers used screen-printing technology to fabricate the patch on a thin and highly flexible polyester sheet. This enables the patch to naturally adapt to the smooth curvilinear geometry of human skin, thereby causing no irritation to the user. The two ECG electrodes are placed around four centimeters apart to avoid signal interference while the electrode for the lactate biosensors was placed in between them.

Testing the Wearable Biosensor

Three male subjects wore the patch on their chest, while they were doing intense cycling activity for 15-30 min on a stationary cycle.  The subjects maintained a steady cycling measure while the cycling resistance increased with time, causing the subjects to increase perspiration. Two of the subjects also wore a commercial wristband heart rate monitor. The ECG signals recorded by the patch matched closely to the signals from the commercial wristband. The data measured by the lactate biosensor resembles closely with the sweat-lactate data reported in other studies during increasing intensity workouts.

BioData and Privacy Concerns

The smart wearable devices together with our smartphones and smart apps are changing the face of healthcare and pushing it towards previously uncharted success in sports and lifestyle.  At the same time, the increasing availability of private health data might also impose privacy issues in the long run. Wearable users themselves, as well as their doctors have a justified interest in biodata, but what will your health insurance or Facebook do with your biodata? It is apt to say now more than ever “Your health is in your hands,” not least because it is in your smart phone.

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