A patch that senses electrical activity of muscles has been developed by an Israeli research team who say it could represent a breakthrough in emotion reading and therapy after strokes.
The patch, described by the researchers as an electronic tattoo, consists of a carbon electrode on an adhesive surface covered with a conductive polymer coating. Thanks to the nano-structured materials used, the electrode can record muscle signals for hours.
"Our tattoo permits patients to carry on with their daily routines, while the electrode monitors their muscle and nerve activity," said Professor Yael Hanein, head of the Tel Aviv University’s Centre for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, who originally developed the device as an alternative to electromyography, an uncomfortable procedure for assessing the health of muscles and cells.
While electromyography requires patients to lie still in a lab for hours, usually with needles in their muscles measuring electrical activity, the new patch offers a ‘stick it on and forget about it’ approach.
Patients recovering from strokes or those suffering from neurodegenerative diseases could use the patch to continuously monitor the progress of their condition, which could help better target physiotherapy.
But Professor Hanein believes the real boon is the possibility of using the patch to monitor people’s emotions.
"Advertisers, pollsters, media professionals, and others - all want to test people's reactions to various products and situations,” said Professor Hanein.
"Researchers worldwide are trying to develop methods for mapping emotions by analysing facial expressions, mostly via photos and smart software. But our skin electrode provides a more direct and convenient solution."
Furthermore, the tattoo could be used to monitor alertness of drivers behind the wheel or help amputees to better control artificial limbs by improving the functioning of their remaining muscles.
The patch, developed as part of a project supported by the European Research Council and the BSMT Consortium of Israel's Ministry of Economy, is described in an article published in last month’s issue of the journal Scientific Reports.