News, Analysis, Trends, Management Innovations for
Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

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News, Analysis, Trends, Management Innovations for
Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

Hosted by Robert Michel
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UK Researchers Create Conductive Thread That Can Be Woven into Clothing to Monitor Key Health Biomarkers

Meet ‘PECOTEX,’ a newly-invented cotton thread with up to 10 sensors that is washable. Its developers hope it can help doctors diagnosis disease and enable patients to monitor their health conditions

Wearable biosensors continue to be an exciting area of research and product development. The latest development in wearable biosensors comes from a team of scientists led by Imperial College London. This team created a conductive cotton thread that can be woven onto T-shirts, textiles, and face masks and used to monitor key biosignatures like heart rate, respiratory rate, and ammonia levels.

Clinical laboratory managers and pathologists should also take note that this wearable technology also can be used to diagnose and track diseases and improve the monitoring of sleep, exercise, and stress, according to an Imperial College London news release.

Should this technology make it into daily use, it might be an opportunity for clinical laboratories to collect diagnostic and health-monitoring data to add to the patient’s full record of lab test results. In turn, clinical pathologists could use that data to add value when consulting with referring physicians and their patients.

The researchers published their findings in the journal Materials Today titled, “PEDOT:PSS-modified Cotton Conductive Thread for Mass Manufacturing of Textile-Based Electrical Wearable Sensors by Computerized Embroidery.”

“Our research opens up exciting possibilities for wearable sensors in everyday clothing,” said Firat Güder, PhD, Principal Investigator and Chief Engineer at Güder Research Group at Imperial College London, in a news release. “By monitoring breathing, heart rate, and gases, they can already be seamlessly integrated, and might even be able to help diagnose and monitor treatments of disease in the future.” (Photo copyright: Wikipedia.)

Ushering in New Generation of Wearable Health Sensors

The researchers dubbed their new sensor thread PECOTEX. It’s a polystyrene sulfonate-modified cotton conductive thread that can incorporate more than 10 sensors into cloth surfaces, costs a mere 15 cents/meter (slightly over 39 inches), and is machine washable.

“PECOTEX is high-performing, strong, and adaptable to different needs,” stated Firat Güder, PhD, Principal Investigator and Chief Engineer at Güder Research Group, Imperial College London, in the press release.

“It’s readily scalable, meaning we can produce large volumes inexpensively using both domestic and industrial computerized embroidery machines,” he added.

The material is less breakable and more conductive than conventional conductive threads, which allows for more layers to be embroidered on top of each other to develop more complex sensors. The embroidered sensors retain the intrinsic values of the cloth items, such as wearability, breathability, and the feel on the skin. PECOTEX is also compatible with computerized embroidery machines used in the textile industry.

The researchers embroidered the sensors into T-shirts to track heart activity, into a face mask to monitor breathing, and into other textiles to monitor gases in the body like ammonia which could help detect issues with liver and kidney function, according to the news release.

“The flexible medium of clothing means our sensors have a wide range of applications,” said Fahad Alshabouna, a PhD candidate at Imperial College’s Department of Bioengineering and lead author of the study in the news release. “They’re also relatively easy to produce which means we could scale up manufacturing and usher in a new generation of wearables in clothing.”

Uses for PECOTEX Outside of Healthcare

The team plans on exploring new applications for PECOTEX, such as energy storage, energy harvesting, and biochemical testing for personalized medicine. They are also seeking partners for commercialization of the product.

“We demonstrated applications in monitoring cardiac activity and breathing, and sensing gases,” Fahad added. “Future potential applications include diagnosing and monitoring disease and treatment, monitoring the body during exercise, sleep, and stress, and use in batteries, heaters, and anti-static clothing.”

In addition to Imperial College London, the research was funded by the Saudi Ministry of Education, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Cytiva Life Sciences, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the US Army.

Other Wearable Biometric Sensors

Dark Daily has covered the development of many wearable health sensors in past ebriefings.

In “UC San Diego Engineers Develop Microneedle Wearable Patch That Measures Glucose, Alcohol, Muscle Fatigue in Real Time,” we covered how “lab-on-the-skin” multi-tasking microneedle sensors like the one developed at the University of California San Diego’s (UCSD) Center for Wearable Sensors to track multiple biomarkers in interstitial fluid were finding their way into chronic disease monitoring and sample collecting for clinical laboratory testing.

In “Fitbit Receives FDA Approval for a Wearable Device App That Detects Atrial Fibrillation,” we reported how personal fitness technology company Fitbit had received 510(k) clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as Conformité Européenne (CE marking) in the European Union, for its Sense smartwatch electrocardiogram app that monitors wearers’ heart rhythms for atrial fibrillation (AFib).

And in “Researchers in Japan Have Developed a ‘Smart’ Diaper Equipped with a Self-powered Biosensor That Can Monitor Blood Glucose Levels in Adults,” we reported how researchers at Tokyo University of Science (TUS) had created a self-powered, glucose-testing diaper that utilizes a biofuel cell to detect the presence of urine and measure its glucose concentration.

Wearable Sensors in Personalized Healthcare

Wearable healthcare devices have enormous potential to perform monitoring for diagnostic, therapeutic, and rehabilitation purposes and support precision medicine.

Further studies and clinical trials need to occur before PECOTEX will be ready for mass consumer use. Nevertheless, it could lead to new categories of inexpensive, wearable sensors that can be integrated into everyday clothes to provide data about an individual’s health and wellbeing.

If this technology makes it to clinical use, it could provide an opportunity for clinical laboratories to collect diagnostic data for patient records and help healthcare professionals track their patients’ medical conditions. 

—JP Schlingman

Related Information:

Sensors Embedded into T-Shirts and Face Masks Could Monitor Biosignatures

PEDOT:PSS-modified Cotton Conductive Thread for Mass Manufacturing of Textile-based Electrical Wearable Sensors by Computerized Embroidery

Wearable Sensors Styled into T-shirts and Face Masks

Low-Cost Sensor Tracks Vital Signs and Breath to Monitor Diseases

Sensor Thread

Wearable Sensor

UC San Diego Engineers Develop Microneedle Wearable Patch That Measures Glucose, Alcohol, Muscle Fatigue in Real Time

Fitbit Receives FDA Approval for a Wearable Device App That Detects Atrial Fibrillation

Researchers in Japan Have Developed a ‘Smart’ Diaper Equipped with a Self-powered Biosensor That Can Monitor Blood Glucose Levels in Adults

US Army’s Only Deployable Medical Laboratory Highlights Its Mission during Trip to Poland

As a deployable medical laboratory, the 1st AML is designed to run field-based clinical laboratory diagnostics and conduct health threat assessments

Clinical laboratory professionals may be surprised to learn that the US Army has a deployable medical laboratory that is equipped to perform the same menu of basic lab tests as their labs here in the United States, but in support of army units deployed in the field. At the same time, the Army’s deployable medical lab has the added responsibility of testing for infectious diseases and chemicals/agents that could be used by terrorists or enemy forces.

The 1st Area Medical Laboratory (AML) is based out of Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, and operates within the Army’s 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives Command (CBRNE).

“The 1st Area Medical Laboratory identifies and evaluates health hazards through unique medical laboratory analyses and rapid health hazard assessments of nuclear, biological, chemical, endemic disease, occupational, and environmental health threats,” according to an Army new release.

A recent visit by the leaders of this lab unit to meet with their counterparts in Poland highlights the important diagnostic work the military prepares for by using this one-of-a-kind clinical laboratory model.

Col. Matthew Grieser and Col. Przemyslaw Makowski, MD

Col. Matthew Grieser (left), Commander of the 1st Area Medical Laboratory (AML) is shown above meeting with Col. Przemysław Makowski, MD, (right), Deputy Commander of the Military Preventive Medicine Center in Wrocław, Poland. Leaders from the US Army’s 1st AML visited military and medical officials in Poland. “It was a great opportunity to meet our Polish counterparts and to learn from one another,” said Grieser in an Army news release. “We intend to continue to strengthen this relationship … Poland is a great ally, and it was an honor to visit our counterpart organizations.”  (Photo copyright: US Army.)

Role and Makeup of the 1st Area Medical Laboratory

The 1st AML traces its roots back to World War II, where it was one of 19 field laboratories spun up in 1944. It was deactivated after the Vietnam War and then reactivated in 2004. It is currently the Army’s only deployable field laboratory, according to the National Library of Medicine.

This specialized unit deploys worldwide to conduct threat detection and medical surveillance, according to the Army. For example, the military can send the 1st AML to locations where samples cannot quickly be transported to a fixed facility, or where there is a need for immediate hazard identification due to chemical or biological contamination or epidemic disease.

During the Ebola outbreak in Liberia in 2014-2015, the 1st AML operated four blood-testing laboratories and helped oversee two others manned by Navy personnel. The goal was to perform quick turnaround times to identify local residents who carried the disease, all while operating with extensive safety measures. More than 4,500 samples were tested during a six-month stay, Army Times reported.

As Dark Daily covered in “New High-Tech Mobile Medical Laboratories Deployed by the US Navy and a European Consortium Use Genetic Analysis to Get Rapid Diagnosis of Ebola,” one of the Navy labs located at Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, was able to reduce turnaround times for Ebola tests from days to hours.

The unit’s technical expertise features a combination of scientists, clinicians, and certified technicians. Familiar lab personnel include a microbiologist, a biochemist, and medical laboratory technicians.

1st AML Leaders Visit Polish Counterparts

Commanders from the 1st AML recently met with medical officials and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear experts from the Polish Armed Forces in the Warsaw area of Poland, the Army news release noted.

During the weeklong trip, 1st AML leaders toured the Epidemiological Response Center of the Polish Armed Forces, Military Institute of Chemistry and Radiometry, laboratories at the Polish Military Institute of Medicine, and biological and chemical labs at the Military Center for Preventive Medicine.

“It was a great opportunity to meet our Polish counterparts and to learn from one another,” said Col. Matthew Grieser, Commander of the 1st AML.

Maj. Suzanne Mate, the Chief of chemical threat assessment for the 1st AML, said meeting with allies helps to keep NATO ready for any contingency.

“It’s better to know your partners before you have to work together in a high-consequence situation,” said Mate in the Army news release. “We learned the strengths in different mobility platforms for laboratories and the capabilities within fixed scientific institutions to maintain standards and currency in chemical, biological, and radiological [CBR] investigations.

“This knowledge is invaluable when determining how to move a sample quickly and efficiently to characterize a suspected CBR threat when airlift resources are constrained or country treaties prevent movement activities,” she added.

Observant clinical laboratory managers will note similarities between their own jobs and those of the 1st AML. The military needs lab-based capabilities to perform a menu of diagnostic tests in support of Army units in the field and traditional clinical laboratories do the same in support of the healthcare providers they service.

Scott Wallask

Related Information:

US Army Field Medical Laboratory Leaders Meet with Polish Counterparts in Warsaw

1st Area Medical Laboratory to Deploy for Ebola Mission

Army Lab Unit Earns Award for Ebola Response in Liberia

New High-Tech Mobile Medical Laboratories Deployed by the U.S. Navy and a European Consortium Use Genetic Analysis to Get Rapid Diagnosis of Ebola

Examining the Utility and Readiness of Mobile and Field Transportable Laboratories for Biodefence and Global Health Security-Related Purposes

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