Portable mini laboratory for health data

The device is attached to the upper arm and wirelessly sends analysis data to a special smartphone app. © Nanobioelectronics Laboratory / UC San Diego

Is my blood sugar level okay, have I been drinking too much, or have I overworked my muscles during exercise? A small, portable device that researchers are now presenting can answer these questions. It painlessly records blood sugar, alcohol and lactate values ​​in the wearer’s body via tiny needles in the skin and sends them to a smartphone. According to the developers, such “multitasking wearables” could help diabetics in particular to continuously record their physical condition.

Unfortunately, when you notice that certain values ​​in the body are getting out of hand, damage has often already occurred. For this reason, medical engineers have for some time devoted themselves to the development of wearable monitoring systems that can continuously record certain health parameters in the body. However, these systems still leave a lot to be desired. As the research team from the University of California in San Diego explains, the main disadvantage of the previous systems for diabetics was that only the blood sugar level was recorded. According to the scientists, this omits information that may also play an important role in health. In the prototype of a multitasking wearable they have now presented, they have first integrated a detection option for the level of alcohol and lactate.

As the researchers explain, monitoring alcohol levels makes sense, among other things, because the consumption of wine and co can lower blood sugar levels. Knowing both values ​​can help people with diabetes prevent their blood sugar levels from falling too low after drinking alcohol. The information about the lactate level, on the other hand, can indicate a sensible level of exercise. Because the substance, also known as lactic acid, is produced when the muscles require more oxygen than can be supplied by the blood during high performance. “With our wearable, you can see the interaction between glucose spikes and dips with diet, exercise and alcoholic beverage consumption. This information could help improve people’s quality of life,” says co-author Farshad Tehrani.

Microneedles painlessly capture biomarkers

The device is about the size of a bottle cap and is worn like a band-aid on the skin of the upper arm while it wirelessly sends analysis values ​​to a special smartphone app. “It acts like a small laboratory on the skin: it’s able to continuously measure multiple biomarkers simultaneously, allowing users to monitor their health and well-being as they go about their daily activities,” says co-author Joseph Wang. The substances are detected using an array of microscopically small needles, each about one-fifth the width of a human hair. When the device is attached, they penetrate painlessly into the top layer of the skin, where they come into contact with tissue fluid. Previous research has shown that the biochemical information measured in this fluid correlates well with levels in the blood, the researchers explain.

To record the biomarkers, the tips of the microneedles have enzymes that react with glucose, alcohol and lactate. This creates small electrical currents that are recorded by sensors in the device and converted into information. They are then sent to the user’s smartphone, where they are displayed in real time. The system is also adapted to long-term use: the element with the microneedles is reversibly connected to the electronic component so that it can be easily replaced. In addition, to recharge the device’s batteries, simply place it on a wireless charging pad.

Promising test results

The researchers tested the extent to which the multitasking wearable actually delivers what it promises on five volunteers: They wore the device on their upper arm while they exercised, ate a meal and drank a glass of wine. As it turned out, it was able to successfully monitor the test subjects’ glucose levels at the same time as their alcohol or lactate levels: the information measured by the device matched the values ​​determined with a commercially available blood glucose meter, a breathalyzer and a blood lactate measurement carried out in the laboratory. the researchers report. It was also confirmed: Despite the “pikes system”, the wearable was skin-friendly without any problems.

The scientists now see the concept as a major step forward in the development of portable surveillance devices and hope that the technology will soon be available on the market. To this end, they are now working on increasing the potential service life of the microneedle elements even further. They also want to expand the multitasking potential of the prototype. The device could therefore be equipped with additional sensors to monitor patient medication levels or other health parameters, the developers write.

Video © Nanobioelectronics Laboratory / UC San Diego

Source: University of California at San Diego, professional article: Nature Biomedical Engineering, doi: 11038/s41551-022-00887-1

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