Algae hydrogel

Health sensors made from seaweed outperform synthetic materials

Image credit: University of Sussex

Biodegradable health sensors made from seaweed that can be applied to the human body like a second skin could be a boon to personal healthcare and fitness monitoring technology, scientists have said.

Developed by a team at the University of Sussex, the sensors can currently monitor heart rate and temperature and are built using natural elements like rock salt, water and seaweed, combined with graphene.

Because they are solely made with ingredients found in nature, they are fully biodegradable, making them more environmentally friendly than commonly used rubber and plastic-based alternatives.

Their natural composition also places them within the emerging scientific field of edible electronics as they are safe for human consumption, the team said.

The seaweed-based sensors were found to outperform existing synthetic-based hydrogels and nanomaterials used in wearable health monitors in terms of sensitivity and accuracy.

Dr Conor Boland, a materials physics lecturer who worked on the project, said: “One of the most exciting aspects to this development is that we have a sensor that is both fully biodegradable and highly effective. The mass production of unsustainable rubber and plastic-based health technology could, ironically, pose a risk to human health through microplastics leaching into water sources as they degrade. 

By adding a critical amount of graphene to a seaweed mixture the scientists were able to create an electrically conductive film. When soaked in a salt bath, the film rapidly absorbs water, resulting in a soft, spongy, electrically conductive hydrogel. 

Future applications of the clinical-grade wearable sensors could look something like a second skin or a temporary tattoo: lightweight, easy to apply, and safe, as they are made with all-natural ingredients.

This could improve the overall patient experience without the need for potentially invasive hospital instruments, wires and leads.

Another team from Northwestern University recently developed a flexible, stretchable bandage that accelerates healing by delivering electrotherapy directly to the wound site.

Researchers from Penn State university unveiled a sensor last month that can be integrated into baby nappies to help workers in daycares, hospitals and other settings provide more immediate care.

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