Researchers have developed an epidermal electronic system a temporary electrophysiologic sensor deployed on the skin like a temporary tattoo.
The ability to capture vital physiological measurements both remotely and in real time seems like science fiction. Even in our modern imaginations, monitors are still bulky devices with tangled wires. The idea of an “electronic skin” was first introduced to enhance robotics, allowing robots to sense pressure and respond appropriately to object gripping. Now, engineers at the University of Illinois have taken a first step toward creating an electronic epidermis that can, in theory, extract biological information through a skin patch.
The researchers created an ultrathin, low-modulus, stretchable “skin-like” membrane into which electrodes, electronics, sensors, power supply, and communication components are cofabricated. This “epidermal electronic system” is modeled after the mechanical and physical properties of human skin and is no more noticeable to the patient than a temporary transfer tattoo. Much as temporary tattoos are transferred to the skin, the 1×2-cm wide, ~30- µm thick electronic sensors are transferred to the skin via a sacrificial layer of water-soluble polymer sheets (see figure). In this first iteration, the investigators successfully demonstrated recovery of electrophysiological information via nanoscale monitors for electroencephalograms (EEGs), electrocardiograms (ECGs), and electromyograms (EMGs). All materials were biocompatible, and continuous measurements could be obtained for up to 6 hours. ECG recordings from the chest showed all the appropriate cardiac signatures, and EMG recordings effectively documented muscle contractions. These signals agreed well with those obtained by larger, bulkier commercial devices.
Comment: A temporary electrophysiologic sensor deployed on the skin like a temporary tattoo is certainly innovative. Whether platforms could be created to monitor other parameters (e.g., glucose) remains to be seen. Moreover, the effect of perspiration and epidermal skin cell shedding on the adhesiveness of these devices remains to be completely worked out. The possibilities for these medical tattoos are almost limitless.
Hensin Tsao, MD, PhD
Published in Journal Watch Dermatology September 21, 2011
Kim D-H et al. Epidermal electronics. Science 2011 Aug 12; 333:838. [Medline ® Abstract]
Copyright © 2011. Massachusetts Medical Society. All rights reserved.
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