Skin patch monitor sweats the health details
Breaking a sweat? Researchers are developing a skin patch that can test those droplets while people exercise and beam results to their smartphones, possibly offering a new way to track health and fitness.
The experimental gadget goes well beyond activity monitors such as the Fitbit. A little larger than a quarter, it’s almost like a tiny lab stuck to the skin—and a study published recently found it worked on sweaty bicyclists, sticking even during a long-distance race in Arizona.
If you think of perspiration as just a drippy nuisance, think again.
“Sweat has biochemical components within it that tell us a lot about physiological health,” said John A. Rogers, who directs Northwestern University’s Center for Bio-Integrated Electronics and led the new research.
Today’s wearable technology helps people track their calories, activity and heart rate. A wearable biosensor would be “radically different,” Rogers said. For simple fitness purposes, it could give an early warning that it’s time to replenish electrolytes before someone starts to feel dehydrated. But eventually with additional research, Rogers envisions more sophisticated uses of such devices, such as real-time monitoring of how the body adjusts during military training or even to screen people for diseases such as diabetes or cystic fibrosis. But so far the patches are just temporary. Rogers’ sweat patches are designed for one-time use over a few hours. While the latest studies used an early version that analyzed sweat just once during the exercise, he’s now testing a design capable of multiple measurements over time.
A new wearable technology may allow future users to analyze the biochemical components of their sweat, monitoring how the body adjusts to stress like a tiny lab stuck to the skin.