Wearable sweat sensor promises complete real-time picture of well-being

Wearable sweat sensor promises...
A sweat-sensing device developed at North Carolina State University
A sweat-sensing device developed at North Carolina State University
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A sweat-sensing device developed at North Carolina State University
A sweat-sensing device developed at North Carolina State University

There is a lot that advanced sensors can tell us by analyzing our sweat, and increasingly we are seeing these devices become more sophisticated and take on more consumer-friendly forms. While still an experimental device under development in the lab, a new health tracker produced by scientists at North Carolina State University is an interesting glimpse of what the future of this tech could look like, packing an impressive array of functionality into a familiar form you can wear on your wrist.

Sweat-sensing technology that can gather information about our health with the smallest of sample sizes is an exciting area of research, with scientists making some real advances of late. It works by measuring metabolites in our perspiration, and recently we have seen temporary tattoos that assess lactate levels to track muscle fatigue, sensors that monitor glucose levels for diabetics and others that even release diabetes drugs in response, to name a few examples.

Engineers at North Carolina State University set out to build a portable device the size of a wristwatch that can track a person's body chemistry in real-time as a way of identifying health problems. The finished product features a replaceable strip on the underside of the device that rests against the person's skin, where embedded chemical sensors gather sweat data and feed it to hardware inside the device. This then processes the data and sends findings to a paired smartphone.

“The device is the size of an average watch, but contains analytical equipment equivalent to four of the bulky electrochemistry devices currently used to measure metabolite levels in the lab,” says Michael Daniele, co-corresponding author of a paper. “We’ve made something that is truly portable, so that it can be used in the field.”

As it stands, the device can measure glucose, lactate, pH and temperature in a person's sweat, but the team is hopeful that it could do much more. The researchers say that because the sensor strips can be customized to measure different metabolites, which could include electrolytes that can be indicative of health or athletic performance, it could offer a more complete picture of well-being in real-time.

“We’re optimistic that this hardware could enable new technologies to reduce casualties during military or athletic training, by spotting health problems before they become critical,” Daniele says. “It could also improve training by allowing users to track their performance over time. For example, what combination of diet and other variables improves a user’s ability to perform?”

From here, the team is conducting further tests in different conditions to ascertain how well the device works in various scenarios and to confirm that it can provide reliable, continuous monitoring for long periods of time. Promisingly, it should be cheap to produce, and should also be cheap to maintain after the point of purchase.

“While it’s difficult to estimate what the device might cost consumers, it only costs tens of dollars to make, Daniele says. "And the cost of the strips – which can last for at least a day – should be comparable to the glucose strips used by people with diabetes. We’re currently looking for industry partners to help us explore commercialization options for this technology."

A paper describing the new device was published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.

Source: North Carolina State University

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