Science

New ‘wearable paint’ PRINTED on the body monitors vital signs

Researchers have developed a wearable circuit that could be printed on the body to monitor body temperature, blood oxygen levels and other vital signs. 

Earlier efforts to develop wearable circuitry required temperatures over 570° Fahrenheit, making them impractical for the human body.

Scientists at Penn State University overcame the heat issue by adding a layer made of polyvinyl alcohol paste, similar to what’s used in peel-off face masks and calcium carbonate, found in egg shells. 

When the diagnostics are finished, the sensors can be washed off in the sink using hot water.

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A metal circuit printed onto the body could monitor body temperature, blood oxygen levels and other vital signs, powered by the movements of the wearer’s body

The compound smooths out the surface of the skin and provides a buffer for a super-thin layer of metal printed directly on top, according to New Atlas.

The metal ‘paint’ is applied at room temperature and then set with an air blower.

It could then record a patient’s temperature, blood flow, heartbeat and respiration rate, according to the team.

When it’s done, the sensor can be washed off using hot water.

The metal 'paint' is applied at room temperature and then set with an air blower. When it's done, the sensor can be washed off using hot water

The metal ‘paint’ is applied at room temperature and then set with an air blower. When it’s done, the sensor can be washed off using hot water

‘It could be recycled, since removal doesn’t damage the device,’ says lead author Larry Cheng of Penn State’s Materials Research Institute. ‘And, importantly, removal doesn’t damage the skin, either.’

Cheng says that’s important for patients with sensitive skin, ‘like the elderly and babies.’

‘The device can be useful without being an extra burden to the person using it or to the environment,’ he added.

The design would be an improvement over existing wearables, which require ‘cumbersome batteries and downtime due to recharging,’ according to a release.

With new materials, the flexing motion of moving muscles, which typically are a hindrance for often-rigid wearable devices, could actually help create the energy that would then be captured and used as power by these biosensors.

‘That’s the amazing thing about these devices, people think that these types of motion are very minimal and don’t think about harvesting this energy,’ said Cheng. ‘It was in the past decade or two when people began to see the possibilities to generate rather large signals from these movements through the high-efficiency circuits.’

The team, whose research was published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, hopes to tailor the circuitry to monitor symptoms of the novel coronavirus.

Eventually, such biosensors could be implanted inside the body, according to Cheng. 

Google has been researching SkinMarks, a dermal patch that uses conductive ink printed onto tattoo paper. Once applied to the skin, it would read gestures like swiping or tapping and perform functions on a synched device

Google has been researching SkinMarks, a dermal patch that uses conductive ink printed onto tattoo paper. Once applied to the skin, it would read gestures like swiping or tapping and perform functions on a synched device

Sensors that double as temporary tattoos have garnered increasing interest in recent years.  

Google has been quietly investigating SkinMarks, a small dermal patch that uses conductive ink printed onto tattoo paper and then applied to the side of the finger or knuckles.

The patch is loaded with sensors and, once applied to the skin, would read gestures like swiping or tapping and perform functions on a synched phone or tablet.   

In 2014, researchers from Monash University and the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication used ultrathin gold wire to develop a patch-sized sensor about two nanometers thick, or less than half-a-billionth of an inch. 

‘The sensors are flexible, yet robust and our testing showed they could be used for checking such things as blood pressure, blood pulse and heartbeat,’ said Monash University engineer Wenlong Cheng. 

‘These results have particular implications for future ‘at-home’ diagnostic tools for elderly or disabled people.’


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