New wearable device tracks alcohol, sugar and ulcer levels using microneedles

Imagine a future in which, after a night of buddy-hopping, you can hit your phone, consult a smartphone app connected to a wireless device stuck in the side of your arm, and find out exactly how badly you’ve been injured. Seems like something you might see in the first two minutes of a file black mirror episode, but it could soon become a reality — and it’s going to be a huge help to people with some tough health conditions.

In a new study published Monday in the journal, biomedical nature engineering, Researchers at the University of California San Diego have developed a device no larger than six quarters that senses alcohol, glucose, and lactate. Aside from telling you that you should get an Uber home from a bar instead of driving, the new wearable also has the potential to help diabetics get a more accurate picture of their blood sugar levels.

“This is like an entire lab on the skin,” Joseph Wang, a biomedical engineer at the University of California, San Diego and co-author of the study, said in a press release. “It is able to continuously measure multiple vital signs at the same time, allowing users to monitor their health and wellness as they perform their daily activities.”

The disposable microneedle patch is separated from the reusable electronic case.

Nanoelectronics Laboratory, University of California, San Diego

Current wearable health sensors for people with diabetes are usually one-trick ponies. They can constantly monitor blood glucose levels – and do it very well – but little else does. Although this information is clinically useful, it does not provide a comprehensive view of the dynamic 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 could allow a person with diabetes to manage their health more accurately by improving their physical activity or monitoring too many extra glasses of wine.

“Through wearable devices, people can see the interaction between high or low glucose with their diet, exercise, and drinking of alcoholic beverages. This could potentially help It adds to their quality of life as well.”

The device can be recharged on a ready wireless charging pad.

Nanoelectronics Laboratory, University of California, San Diego

Another major downside of wearable health monitors is their reliance on invasive, needle-based sensors. While the coin-sized device contains needles, the University of California, San Diego researchers used disposable microneedles, which are painless and minimally invasive, and measure about one-fifth the width of a human hair. The needles also have sensors that take samples of the body’s interstitial fluid once it sticks to the skin. This fluid fills the spaces between cells and fills with biological chemicals such as glucose, lactate, and alcohol as soon as you drink a drink.

The magic happens when different enzymes inside the micro-needles react with these chemicals, generating electrical signals. These signals are then analyzed by additional sensors inside the device before being sent wirelessly to a smartphone app developed by the researchers. When the new wearable device was tested by five volunteers while they went about their day eating, drinking and exercising, the data about the chemicals collected was on par with that collected by traditional measurement methods, such as a commercial blood glucose monitor or Breathalyzer .

“The beauty of this is that it is a fully integrated system that anyone can wear without being attached to a tabletop device,” Patrick Mercier, an electrical engineer at the University of California, San Diego and study co-author, said in the press release.

If you are in the market for this one-of-a-kind health sensor, you may have to wait a while to get a commercially viable product. The device, while rechargeable, can only be played for a few hours at the moment. The UCSD team is also planning more extensive clinical trials that could test the ability of wearables to measure other health chemicals, such as antibiotic levels, when treating bacterial infections.

But once it’s fully fleshed out, researchers see their health sensor as promising for a whole group of people other than those with diabetes — from athletes who want to boost their physical performance, to doctors who monitor their patients after organ transplants, and homeschoolers who like to keep track of their health stats. It’s like Fitbit on steroids.

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