Healthy living

Electronic skin tattoo used to monitor patients

Electronic skin tattoo could be used to monitor patients Highly effective in measuring body activity

An ultra-thin electronic skin patch that works like a temporary tattoo has been developed and could be used to monitor a patient's vital signs in the future.

The device, less than 50 microns thick and thinner than a human hair, contains all the sensors and electronics needed for monitoring hospital patients, including tiny solar cells for power.

These have been mounted on a thin plastic film, similar to that used for temporary tattoos, so that the electronic patch has the flexibility of human skin.

Because it is so thin, tape or glue is not needed, and the electronic patch can be applied to the skin using a sprinkle of water. It can also be easily removed by peeling it off the skin.

When tested, the device measured electrical signals from the leg muscles, heart and brain comparable to those measured using standard medical equipment.

The researchers say the device could be used for monitoring brain, heart and muscle tissue activity without the need for the jungle of electrodes, wires, cables and medical equipment currently in use.

"Our goal was to develop an electronic technology that could integrate with the skin in a way that is invisible to the user," said study leader John Rogers, a professor in material science and engineering at the University of Illinois.

"It's a technology that blurs the distinction between electronics and biology."

The electronic skin patch has also been shown to allow people to interface with computers.

When attached to a person's throat, the device translated spoken commands such as up, down, left and right into instructions to control a computer game, which could be of use to patients with muscular or neurological disorders.

Other potential applications include as an electronic bandage to speed up wound healing and as a touch sensitive sensor for artificial limbs.

The study is published in the journal Science.

This article was published on Fri 12 August 2011

Image © John Rogers

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