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Wearable devices we have today, like smartwatches or fitness trackers, help us monitor our health by measuring pulse rates or temperatures. Soon, we may have wearables that could detect gases released from our skin and help monitor biomarkers related to metabolic disorders, like heart disease or diabetes. US scientists are working on creating the next generation of wearable health monitors. They described their study in a paper published in the journal PLOS One.
Talking about the future wearable health tech, lead author of the study, Anthony Annerino said that it is completely non-invasive, and completely passive on the behalf of the user. He is a graduate student in materials science and engineering at The Ohio State University.
"The project still has a couple of years to go. But in six months, we should have proof of concept and in a year, we'd like to have it tested in people," added study co-author Pelagia-Iren Gouma, professor of materials science and engineering.
According to Gouma, their final product would be a small device that a person could wear on low-sweat body locations, like behind the ear or on the nails. She believes that the new generation of skin sensors they are developing will really be the new norm.
Most wearable sensors being studied rely on electrical signals to sense the chemicals excreted in sweat to measure human biomarkers. But such sensors often require huge amounts of perspiration just to get a reading.
In comparison, Annerino said, their sensors can operate on much smaller amounts of gaseous acetone released from the skin.
One of the substances secreted from the skin, acetone can reveal a lot about the inner workings of the human body. Concentrations of these gases in the breath have also been shown to be related to blood sugar levels and fat-burning rates.
Annerino and team are developing the technology to be able to measure lower concentrations of acetone with high selectivity.
They have created a film material out of derivatives of plant cellulose and electroactive polymers. This film can bend dramatically in response to how much of the acetone is detected in its environment. Then, they used machine learning and complex computational algorithms to accurately record and track the film's bending response to the different chemical solutions.
Overall, they found that the films are sensitive enough to track long-term changes in the body. Interestingly, the films can also track ethanol which, in the body, can spell signs of liver disease.
However, the researchers noted that more work needs to be done to find out if the films would work as actual sensors worn on the body.
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