Wearable, Paper Electronic Sensors Remotely Monitor Patients

A team at Purdue University has developed biocompatible, paper-based sensors that can be used by doctors to track patient health at home.

Researchers have been working diligently to develop wearable medical technology that can improve patient treatment and outcomes. As part of this research, engineers at Purdue University have developed a simple, bio-compatible paper sticker that can be worn by patients to help doctors remotely monitor their condition post-surgery or if they have other health conditions.

wearable paper sensor
Purdue University researchers have created wearable electronic devices that someone can easily attach to their skin. The devices are made out of a paper-based cellulose material to lower the cost of personalized medicine. (Image source: Purdue University)

The so-called smart stickers are made of cellulose and were developed by a team led by Ramses Martinez, a Purdue assistant professor of industrial and biomedical engineering. Cellulose is a breathable material naturally found in plants, which also means it is biocompatible.

“For the first time, we have created wearable electronic devices that someone can easily attach to their skin and are made out of paper to lower the cost of personalized medicine,” he said in a Purdue University news release.

Researchers patterned the sensors in serpentine shapes to make them thin and stretchable so a patient doesn’t even know he or she is wearing them, Martinez said. Further, to ensure that the paper material doesn’t degrade or dissolve when it gets wet or dirty, the team coated it with molecules that repel water, oil, dust, and bacteria.

The stickers can be used by health professionals in a number of ways for remote monitoring of their activity at home, Martinez said. For example, they can use them internally to monitor the sleep of patients because they conform to internal organs without causing any adverse reactions.

Keeping an Eye on Patients

They also can be used in patients who have recently had heart surgery so physicians can keep an eye on patient conditions as they recover at home. Yet another use for the stickers is in a similar way to common fitness wearables to monitor vital signs while people exercise or swim, Martinez added.

In addition to the biocompatibility and comfort of the sticker’s materials and their useful design, the invention has another benefit. It is very inexpensive to produce, costing only about a nickel and using the same printing method as is used to print books at a high speed, he said.

“The low cost of these wearable devices and their compatibility with large-scale manufacturing techniques will enable the quick adoption of these new fully disposable, wearable sensors in a variety of healthcare applications requiring single-use diagnostic systems,” Martinez said.

Researchers published a paper about their work in the journal ACS Advanced Materials and Interfaces. They also published a YouTube video describing their work. The team aims to commercialize its invention and is currently looking for partners to help make this possible, Martinez said. Researchers have patented the technology through the Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco, and New York City. In her free time, she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga, and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

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