UCSD Researchers Develop a Wearable Skin Patch That Monitors Blood Pressure, Glucose Levels, and Other Biomarkers in Human Sweat
Skin patch technologies could enable clinical laboratories to monitor patients’ vitals and report to medical professionals in real time
Pathologists and clinical laboratory leaders have read many Dark Daily ebriefings on the development of skin patches over the years that do everything from monitoring fatigue in the military to being a complete lab-on-skin technology. Now, researchers at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) have developed a wearable patch that can monitor cardiovascular signals and other various biochemical levels in the body simultaneously.
The researchers believe there is enormous potential for such a patch in helping patients monitor conditions such as hypertension or diabetes. They also foresee a scenario where the patch could be used in settings where vitals must be constantly monitored. They hope to develop future versions of the patch that can detect more biomarkers within the body.
“This type of wearable would be very helpful for people with underlying medical conditions to monitor their own health on a regular basis,” Lu Yin, a PhD student and co-first author of the study, told New Atlas. “It would also serve as a great tool for remote patient monitoring, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when people are minimizing in-person visits to the clinic,” she added.
The UCSD researchers published the results of their study in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Biomedical Engineering, titled, “An Epidermal Patch for the Simultaneous Monitoring of Haemodynamic and Metabolic Biomarkers.”
Combining Precision Medicine with Telehealth and the Internet of Things
About the size of a postage stamp and consisting of stretchy polymers that conform to the skin, the UCSD patch monitors blood pressure and contains sensors that measure different biochemical levels in the body, such as:
- lactate, a biomarker of physical exertion,
- caffeine and alcohol in sweat, and
- glucose levels in interstitial fluid.
The sensors are carefully arranged on the patch to eliminate interference between the signals, noted a UCSD press release.
“Each sensor provides a separate picture of a physical or chemical change. Integrating them all in one wearable patch allows us to stitch those different pictures together to get a more comprehensive overview of what’s going on in our bodies,” said Sheng Xu, PhD, Principle Investigator, Xu Research Group at UCSD, Assistant Professor in the Department of NanoEngineering Department, and a co-first author of the study, in the press release.
The UCSD researchers developed their skin patch to monitor specific biomarkers that can affect blood pressure.
“Let’s say you are monitoring your blood pressure and you see spikes during the day and think that something is wrong,” co-first author Juliane Sempionatto, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and co-first author of the study, told New Atlas. “But a biomarker reading could tell you if those spikes were due to an intake of alcohol or caffeine. This combination of sensors can give you that type of information,” she added.
The blood pressure sensor sits near the center of the patch and consists of a set of small transducers welded to the patch via a conductive link. Voltage applied to the transducers send ultrasound waves through the body which bounce off arteries and create echoes that are detected by the sensor and converted into an accurate blood pressure reading.
The chemical sensor releases the drug pilocarpine into the skin to induce sweat and then measures the chemicals contained in the sweat to provide readings of certain biochemical levels.
The glucose sensor located in the patch emits a mild electrical current to the body that stimulates the release of interstitial fluid and then reads the glucose level in that fluid.
Skin Patch Measurements Closely Match Those of Traditional Devices
Test subjects wore the patch on their neck while performing various combinations of the following tasks:
- exercising on a stationary bicycle,
- eating a high-sugar meal,
- drinking an alcoholic beverage, and
- drinking a caffeinated beverage.
The results of the measurements taken from the patch closely matched measurements collected by traditional monitoring devices such as a:
For now, the patch must be connected to an external power source which transmits the reading to a counter-top machine, but the researchers hope to create a wireless version in the future.
“There are opportunities to monitor other biomarkers associated with various diseases,” Sempionatto said in the UCSD press release. “We are looking to add more clinical value to this device.”
Other Similar Skin Patch Monitoring Technologies
Though an important breakthrough, the UCSD’s device is not the first skin patch monitor to be developed.
In “Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis Use Microneedle Patch with Fluorescent Nanolabels to Detect Biomarkers in Skin’s Interstitial Fluid,” Dark Daily reported on a microneedle patch designed by researchers at the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis which adheres to the skin like a bandage and could possibly serve as a pain-free way to take blood samples without the need for a venipuncture or needle stick.
And in “In the Field of Nano-Scale Diagnostics, Many Researchers Are Developing ‘Lab-on-Skin’ Technologies That Can Monitor Many Clinical Laboratory Biomarkers,” we covered development of a wearable “lab-on-skin” technology that noninvasively measure a variety of physiological data, including: blood pressure, glucose/potassium/sodium levels, hydration, oxygenation, and more.
Multiple research and clinical studies are underway that hope to prove the accuracy and safety of wearable devices at detecting and monitoring certain health conditions. It’s a worthy goal.
Skin patches, such as the one created at UCSD, could enable clinical laboratories to provide value-added service to medical professionals and patients alike. Medical labs could potentially monitor skin patch readings in real-time and notify physicians and patients of changes in biomarkers that require attention.
Further, as this technology is developed, it will likely find a ready market with the latest generation of consumers who are more willing than previous generations to buy their own diagnostic tests for home use. These “next-generation” healthcare consumers have demonstrated their willingness to use Apple watches, Fitbits, and similar wearable devices to monitor their condition during exercise and other health metrics.
Pathologists and clinical laboratory managers should not overlook the potential for robust consumer demand to accelerate development and market adoption of such skin patches.