Stretchable health patch can monitor heart, lungs and motion

A wireless stretchable health monitor has been designed by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who say it avoids many of the skin injuries and allergic reactions associated with conventional adhesive sensors with conductive gels.

The monitor can take numerous health readings, including electrocardiogram (ECG), heart rate, respiratory rate and motion activity data, before transmitting the data to a portable recording device such as a smartphone or tablet computer.

The electronics are mounted on a stretchable substrate and connected to gold skin-like electrodes through printed connectors that can stretch with the medical film in which they are embedded.

“This health monitor has a key advantage for young children who are always moving, since the soft conformal device can accommodate that activity with a gentle integration onto the skin,” said assistant professor Woon-Hong Yeo who worked on the technology.

“This is designed to meet the electronic health monitoring needs of people whose sensitive skin may be harmed by conventional monitors.”

The stretchable layer conforms to the skin, thereby avoiding signal issues that can be created by the motion of other metal-gel electrodes. The device is able to obtain accurate signals from a person who is walking, running or climbing stairs.

“When you put a conventional electrode on the chest, movement from sitting up or walking creates motion artefacts that are challenging to separate from the signals you want to measure,” he said. “Because our device is soft and conformal, it moves with the skin and provides information that cannot be seen with the motion artefacts of conventional sensors.”

Continuous evaluation with a wireless health monitor could improve the assessment of children and help clinicians identify trends earlier, potentially facilitating intervention before a condition progresses, said Dr Kevin Maher, a paediatric cardiologist.

“The generation of continuous data from the respiratory and cardiovascular systems could allow for the application of advanced diagnostics to detect changes in clinical status, response to therapies and implementation of early intervention,” he said.

“A device to literally follow every breath a child takes could allow for early recognition and intervention prior to a more severe presentation of a disease.”

Used in the home, a wearable monitor might detect changes that might not otherwise be apparent, he said, and in clinical settings the wireless device could allow children to feel less 'tethered' to equipment.

The monitor uses three gold electrodes embedded in the film that also contains the electronic processing equipment. The entire health monitor is just three inches in diameter, while a more advanced version already under development will be half that size. The wireless monitor is currently powered by a small rechargeable battery, but future versions may replace the battery with an external radio-frequency charging system.

“The monitor could be worn for multiple days, perhaps for as long as two weeks,” Yeo said. “The membrane is waterproof, so an adult could take a shower while wearing it. After use, the electronic components can be recycled.”

Two versions of the monitor have been developed. One is based on medical tape and designed for short-term use in a hospital or other care facility, while the other uses a soft elastomer medical film approved for use in wound care. The latter can remain on the skin longer.

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