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Sweat sensor for wearables opens up a treasure trove of healthcare data


Sweat sensors aren’t sexy but they can open up a treasure trove of health information that can help keep you feeling at the top of your game.


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Sweat might make you smell to high heaven, and keep the consumer goods companies in business, but asides from that there’s a lot that advanced sensors can tell us about our health, sports performance, and overall wellbeing by analysing it. While the latest development in the space is still a prototype a new wearable health tracker produced by a team at North Carolina State University in the US is an interesting glimpse of what the future of this tech could eventually look like.


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Believe it or not sweat sensing technology that can gather a surprisingly massive amount of information about your health with just the smallest of sample sizes is an exciting area of research with scientists making some real advances of late, and it’s just one more example of how we’re slowly but surely democratising access to cheap or even free healthcare and diagnosis, as you can read about for yourself here, using increasingly powerful sensors, smart devices, and technologies.

The team’s device works by measuring metabolites in your perspiration, and recently I’ve seen the development of complimentary smart tattoos that assess everything from lactate levels to muscle fatigue, as well as sensors that monitor glucose levels for diabetics and others that even release diabetes drugs in response, to name a few examples.

The team behind the latest invention set out to build a portable device the size of a wristwatch that can track a person’s body chemistry in real-time as a way of identifying health problems. The finished product features a replaceable strip on the underside of the device that rests against the person’s skin, where embedded chemical sensors gather sweat data and feed it to hardware inside the device. This then processes the data and sends findings to a paired smartphone.


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“The device is the size of an average watch, but contains analytical equipment equivalent to four of the bulky electrochemistry devices currently used to measure metabolite levels in the lab,” says Michael Daniele, who led the research. “We’ve made something that is truly portable, so that it can be used in the field.”

As it stands, the device can measure a ton of stuff including glucose, lactate, pH and temperature in a person’s sweat, but the team is hopeful that in time it could do much more. The researchers say that because the sensor strips can be customized to measure different metabolites, which could include electrolytes that can be indicative of health or athletic performance, it could offer a more complete picture of well-being in real-time.

“We’re optimistic that this hardware could enable new technologies to reduce casualties during military or athletic training, by spotting health problems before they become critical,” Daniele says. “It could also improve training by allowing users to track their performance over time. For example, what combination of diet and other variables improves a user’s ability to perform?”


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Now the team is conducting further tests in different conditions to ascertain how well the device works in various scenarios and to confirm that it can provide reliable, continuous monitoring for long periods of time, and promisingly, it should be cheap to make, and should also be cheap to maintain after the point of purchase.

“While it’s difficult to estimate what the device might cost consumers, it only costs tens of dollars to make, Daniele says. “And the cost of the strips – which can last for at least a day – should be comparable to the glucose strips used by people with diabetes. We’re currently looking for industry partners to help us explore commercialization options for this technology.”

A paper describing the new device was published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.

Source: North Carolina State University

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