Technology Science - Wireless 'tattoo' created for vital sign checks

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A thin, electronic device can measure vital signs like heart and brain waves by sticking to the skin like a temporary tattoo, a team of engineers and scientists have demonstrated.

Currently, hospitalized heart disease patients are often attached to bulky electronics and wiring to monitor their physiological signals. But many people will develop a rash and the electrodes have to be moved around, which interrupts monitoring.

In Friday's issue of the journal Science, researchers say they've developed an electronic skin with sensors, a power supply and other components embedded in a film thinner than the diameter of a human hair.

"The mechanics behind the design for our serpentine-shaped electronics makes the device as soft as the human skin," said Yonggang Huang, a lead researcher on the project and an engineering professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

"The design enables brittle, inorganic semiconductors to achieve extremely vast stretchability and flexibility. Plus, the serpentine design is very useful for self adhesion to any surface without using glues," he added in a release.

In the study, John Rogers, a professor in materials science and engineering department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and his co-authors said the devices stayed in place for up to 24 hours under ideal conditions on the arm, neck, forehead, cheek and chin.

Natural shedding of skin would cause the monitors to come off, but Rogers told reporters he thought the devices could remain in place for up to two weeks.

The electronic skin can be stuck on and peeled off skin like bandage tape, said Zhenqiang Ma, an engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin, who was not part of the research team. Ma wrote a journal commentary that was published with the study.

"Physiological information has been collected from heart, brain, and skeletal muscles with a quality equivalent to that collected with bulky electrodes and hardware," Ma wrote.

The device sticks to the skin using a weak attraction called van der Waals forces. It is thought that geckos may use van der Waals force to climb smooth surfaces.

Rogers is a founder of the company MC10, based in Cambridge, Mass., which is working to develop commercial uses of the devices. He declined to speculate on how soon the electronic skin would be ready for market or what it would cost.

Funding for the research came from the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, the U.S. National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois, and a U.S. Defense Department National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellowship.

With files from The Associated Press

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