Engineers Design Tattoo-Like Skin Patches to act as Health Monitors [Video]

Apr 04, 2014 05:12 AM EDT

Engineers have now developed stick-on patches that can hold chip-based electronics. These soft patches move with the skin and can be used as wireless health monitors.

The skin patch was designed by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Northwestern University researchers. People can someday use these stick-on patches to undergo EKG and ECG testing. The wearable monitoring device can also be useful in patients with sensitive skin such as newborn babies.

 "We designed this device to monitor human health 24/7, but without interfering with a person's daily activity," said Yonggang Huang, Northwestern University professor.

"It is as soft as human skin and can move with your body, but at the same time it has many different monitoring functions. What is very important about this device is it is wirelessly powered and can send high-quality data about the human body to a computer, in real time," Huang added, according to a news release.

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The device builds-up on an earlier research by Illinois professor John A. Rogers and colleagues. The team had demonstrated that an ultrathin device platform could hold diagnostic tools.

In the present study, researchers demonstrated that the tattoo-like patch can incorporate commercial, chip-based electronics. The use of readily available components reduced the cost of manufacturing these platforms.

The device is made of a thin envelope filled with a fluid. Tiny points on the patch support the chip components. Since the chips are suspended on the patch and not fixed, the device can stretch. Another engineering marvel used in the device is the origami-like wiring system. The wires are folded in such a way that they do not break when the patch moves,

"The application of stretchable electronics to medicine has a lot of potential," Huang said in a news release. "If we can continuously monitor our health with a comfortable, small device that attaches to our skin, it could be possible to catch health conditions before experiencing pain, discomfort and illness."

The National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellowship of Energy, the Korean Foundation for International Cooperation of Science and Technology, and the Department of Energy supported the study and it is published in the journal Science.

A related study had shown that smart dermal patches can not only help monitor medication levels in the body, but also deliver drugs through the skin at the right time.

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