Epidermal electronic device sticks to task of monitoring health

Researchers in the US have developed an epidermal electronic device that can be worn like a sticking plaster to continuously monitor a patient’s health.

Developed at Purdue University, the ‘smart stickers’ are made of cellulose, which is biocompatible and breathable. They can be used to monitor physical activity and alert a wearer about possible health risks in real time. The research is published in ACS Advanced Materials and Interfaces.

“For the first time, we have created wearable electronic devices that someone can easily attach to their skin and are made from paper to lower the cost of personalised medicine,” said Ramses Martinez, a Purdue assistant professor of industrial engineering and biomedical engineering, who led the research team.

Health professionals could also use the stickers as implantable sensors to monitor the sleep of patients because they conform to internal organs without causing any adverse reactions. Athletes could also use the technology to monitor their health while exercising and swimming.

According to Purdue, traditional manufacturing methods and materials used to fabricate therapeutic epidermal electronics are complex and expensive, which prevents their adoption as single-use medical devices.

In their research, the team developed epidermal, paper-based electronic devices (EPEDs) by combining spray-based deposition of silanizing agents, highly conductive nanoparticles, and encapsulating polymers with laser micromachining.

These stickers are patterned in serpentine shapes to make the devices as thin and stretchable as skin, making them imperceptible for the wearer but effective as electrophysiological sensors to record electrocardiograms, electromyograms, and electrooculograms.

Since paper degrades fast when it gets wet and human skin is prone to be covered in sweat, these stickers were coated with molecules that repel water, oil, dust and bacteria. Each sticker costs about a nickel (4p) to produce and can be made using high-throughput manufacturing technologies.

“The low cost of these wearable devices and their compatibility with large-scale manufacturing techniques will enable the quick adoption of these new fully disposable, wearable sensors in a variety of healthcare applications requiring single-use diagnostic systems,” Martinez said.

The technology is patented through the Purdue Office of Technology Commercialisation, which is looking for partners to test and commercialise their technology.