Imagine a future where, after a night out at the bars with friends, you can pull out your phone, check a smartphone app connected to a wireless device attached to the side of your arm, and find out exactly how beat up you are. Sounds like something you might see in the first few minutes of a black mirror episode, but it could soon be a reality and be of great help to people with certain challenging health conditions.
In a new study published Monday in the journal nature Biomedical Engineering, Researchers at the University of California, San Diego have developed a device no bigger than a stack of six quarters that detects alcohol, glucose, and lactate. As well as letting you know to take the Uber home from the bar instead of driving, the new wearable device also has the potential to help people with diabetes get a more accurate picture of their blood sugar levels.
“This is like a whole lab on the skin,” Joseph Wang, a UC San Diego biomedical engineer and study co-author, said in a news release. “It is capable of continuously measuring multiple biomarkers at the same time, allowing users to monitor their health and wellness while going about their daily activities.”
Today’s wearable health sensors for people with diabetes are often one-trick ponies. They can continuously monitor blood glucose levels, and they do very well, but little else. This information, while clinically useful, does not provide a comprehensive view of the dynamics between blood sugar and elevated levels of alcohol (which can lower blood sugar) or lactate (which can indicate muscle fatigue and tissue damage). A device that can take these factors into account may allow a person with diabetes to more accurately manage their health by optimizing their physical activity or avoiding too many extra glasses of wine.
“With our wearable device, people can see the interaction between their glucose spikes or drops with their diet, exercise, and alcohol consumption. That could also increase your quality of life,” Farshad Tehrani, a doctoral student at UC San Diego and co-author of the study, said in the news release.
Another major drawback of wearable health monitors is their reliance on invasive needle-based sensors. While their coin-sized device has needles, the UC San Diego researchers used disposable microneedles, which are painless and minimally invasive, measuring about one-fifth the width of a human hair. The needles also contain sensors that sample your body’s interstitial fluid once they attach to your skin. This fluid fills the spaces between cells and is packed with biological chemicals like glucose, lactate, and alcohol once you’ve had a drink.
The magic happens when different enzymes inside the microneedles react with these chemicals, generating electrical signals. These signals are then analyzed by additional sensors within the device before being sent wirelessly to a smartphone app developed by the researchers. When five volunteers tested the new wearable device as they ate, drank and exercised throughout the day, the data on chemicals collected was on par with that collected by conventional measurement methods, such as a commercial blood glucose monitor or breathalyzer. .
“The beauty of this is that it’s a fully integrated system that someone can use without being tied to a desktop computer,” Patrick Mercier, an electrical engineer at UC San Diego and co-author of the study, in the press release.
If you are looking for this unique health sensor on the market, you may have to wait a while to find a commercially viable product. The device, although rechargeable, can only work for a few hours at a time currently. The UC San Diego team also plans larger clinical trials that could test the wearable device’s potential for measuring other health-specific chemicals, such as antibiotic levels when treating bacterial infections.
But once fully developed, the researchers see their health sensor as promising for a wide range of people beyond people with diabetes, from athletes who want to improve their physical performance to doctors who monitor their patients after a transplant. of organs and normal people at home who love to keep track of their health statistics. It’s like a Fitbit on steroids.