Photo worth seeing: Stretchable sensors for personalized medicine

Photo worth seeing: Stretchable sensors for personalized medicine
Highly stretchable microelectrode arrays can be used in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. © PHOTO / Zhao Research Group

The term personalized medicine has been established for several years. This refers to individual diagnoses and forms of therapy tailored to the patient. Although people often receive the same diagnosis, they can react differently to the same medication. The aim is to provide more precise and effective treatments. With the help of precise examinations and special devices, individual biological characteristics such as biomarkers can be detected. These make it possible to detect and treat an illness at an early stage.

Microelectrode arrays (MEAs), for example, could be used in personalized medicine in the future. These sensors usually contain needles that can be used to record and emit neural signals. The first experimental MEAs can measure and stimulate electrical activity in the brain and record biomarkers under the skin. However, previous models of this type are usually too rigid to be used in all areas of the body.

Hangbo Zhao from the University of Southern California (USC) and his team have therefore developed softer and more flexible microneedle electrodes. These can be seen in the photo. They are made of a stretchy silicone elastomer. This is where the microneedles are located, which are electrically connected to each other via serpentine connections. Thanks to this structure, the MEAs have a stretchability of 60 to 90 percent, as the researchers report. In comparison, the stretchability of previous microneedle electrodes is 25 to 40 percent. Due to this flexibility, the new electrode arrays can be better used in skin and muscle tissue. The stretchy material adapts to the deformations of the fabric, reducing the likelihood of damage. The needles can also penetrate deeper into the target tissue and thus provide more precise data.

Stretchable microelectrode arrays can offer an important advance in personalized medicine, according to Zhao and his colleagues. Their malleability makes them highly customizable and precise. This enables them to provide patients with an accurate diagnosis and individual treatment.

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