Materials scientist John Rogers and his team at the University of Illinois have improved on their work with flexible electronics by creating a medical device that can be “printed” directly onto the skin. The ultrathin mesh device consists of sensors, electrodes, and wireless power and communication systems, and looks very much like a tattoo. Fortunately it’s temporary; it lasts up to two weeks before the body naturally sloughs it off. While it’s on, though, it can be used to measure general health data or even monitor the healing of a wound.
What’s the Big Idea?
Previous versions of the device were attached to the skin with a backing, and worked well until the subject went to bathe or swim. This version gets rid of the backing entirely, which makes it one-thirtieth as thick and, says Rogers, “more conformal to the kind of roughness that’s present naturally on the surface of the skin.” Adding a layer of commercially-available “spray-on bandage” protects the device and bonds it to the skin more securely. The team is now working on improving the wireless systems.
Embedded in a cell phone or in accessories such as rings, bracelets or watches, the novel tools aim to make it easier to manage hypertension. But they must still pass several tests before hitting the clinic.