KTH develops wearable tech to diagnose from blood and sweat
May 21, 2019
Researchers at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden have developed a multifaceted measuring technology that can detect a number of conditions in the human body by measuring blood and sweat using sensors woven into clothing.
KTH researcher Gaston Crespo and his colleagues say the technology can detect a number of conditions from renal failure to dehydration. Future applications include training apps and watches as tools to monitor health.
One of the biggest problems when it is hot outdoors is to stay hydrated. This is where the technology developed by Crespo comes into the picture.
“One of the areas where the technology will be useful is in monitoring your body fluid balance in the form of electrolyte balance so you don’t become dehydrated,” said Crespo, an associate professor at KTH. “By keeping check on the sweat the human body secretes, users can be warned about becoming dehydrated in good time before problems arise, so they can either stop exercising or drink to rehydrate their body. The technology is designed to enable users to adapt their exercise to their individual circumstances and preferences.”
The technology takes measurements of blood and sweat with portable electrochemical sensors that can be woven into clothing or worn separately in direct contact with the skin, using an armband for example. The sensors are fitted in a patch that is attached to the skin, or as microneedles, depending on the type of app.
“Both technology platforms can be used in medical contexts at home or during athletic activity,” said Crespo. “They could also be tools in hospitals and clinics.”
The sensors can detect a range of problems, such as dehydration plus electrolyte balance and kidney problems.
“Kidney problems in particular are associated with the secretion of potassium ions for example and creatinine level in blood, which the technology can identify,” said Crespo.
When it comes to exercise and sport, it’s not just fluid balance that can be measured. During intense physical exertion, lactic acid can build up in the bloodstream faster than it can be burned off and this is something the sensors can continuously monitor during the course of training.
“The sensors can also measure how stressed a person is, and their attentiveness,” said Crespo.
The technology and sensors could be used with apps and watches such as Run Keeper and Fitbit. According to Crespo, this would be possible if the watch and app were able to import the type of data generated by the sensors and display them in a usable way. If so, training could be taken to the next level.
Along with Crespo, the KTH research team included Marc Parrilla, Rocio Canovas, Maria Cuartero and Lijun Chai.
The sensors pick up biomolecules such as sodium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, ammonium, glucose, uric acid and amino acids such as glycine. These biomolecules help users keep a check on liver and heart health, metabolism and diabetes.
In addition to the technology being embedded in armbands and clothing that can measure physical parameters, the researchers also expect next generation sensors to be able to collect and display biochemical values recorded in human sweat.