THURSDAY, March 29 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers say they're
designing patch-like devices to wirelessly transmit information
about a person's vital health statistics, potentially freeing
patients from the wires and sticky electrodes of
electroencephalograms (EEGs) and electrocardiogram (EKGs).
The devices, currently envisioned to be more like a temporary
tattoo than a medical patch, could conceivably measure heart
activity and brain waves, said John Rogers, a professor of
materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign, who spoke about the new research at a conference
"The big benefit would be the ability to continuously monitor health and wellness," Rogers said. "There's a lot of interest in personalized medicine and the quantified self, and hardware is key."
The research, however, is in the preliminary stages. It's not
clear how much the devices would cost or how long it will take
before they could be available. However, Rogers and colleagues have
formed a company to bring the devices to the medical market.
The goal is to figure out how to measure something that the body
is doing -- the actions of the heart, for instance -- and then
transmit the information without the use of wires. The researchers
also want to make devices that are more like tattoos, which closely
follow the contours of the skin, than medical patches, which are
more rigid and can irritate the skin, Rogers said.
The researchers think their devices "will bear a lot of
similarities to kids' temporary transfer tattoos," he said. "That's
the mental picture that you should have. Once it's on you, you
don't know it's there anymore."
The patches in development are about an inch square, roughly the
size of a stamp, he said. The plan is to install a transmission
system that allows the patches to send out information wirelessly,
a bit like the so-called RFID devices that set off alarms when
customers leave stores without buying their merchandise.
The researchers are still putting all the parts together to
build the devices.
They're experimenting with ways to make the devices stick to the
skin and protect them from water, and they're exploring ways to
send signals back and forth. That way, for example, a device could
send information about the way that muscles are moving and send
back instructions about stimulating the muscles.
There's even talk about putting the devices on internal medical
equipment like the catheters used in heart surgery, allowing
doctors to monitor how the procedures are progressing.
Another possible application is to use the devices to measure
the hydration of the skin, potentially giving people the
opportunity to figure out if their moisturizer is working properly.
"It might go on your cheek for 10 seconds, and you get measurements
of what's gong on with your skin and determines the kind of cream
you might want to use," Brown said. "In that case, you want a
device that's fully soft and skin-like. No one's going to put a
full wire probe on their face."
Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, vice-chair of the department of
biomedical engineering at Columbia University, in New York City,
said it's too early to comment in depth on the research. Still, "I
look forward to learning about details," she said. "The potential
for this kind of technology is huge, and I am sure that the initial
applications we can envision at this time will lead to the new
ones. In particular, the combination of soft materials, wireless
technologies and micro devices may bring measurements -- and
interventions -- in the whole (body) to an entirely new level."
A report about the development of the patch-like device was
scheduled for release Monday at a meeting of the American Chemical
Society in San Diego. With research presented at medical meetings,
the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until
published in a peer-reviewed journal.
For more about
medical patches, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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