What if doctors could monitor your heart or detect if someone was going to have a seizure through a small electronic patch applied to the skin?
How about an electronic patch that could sense muscle fatigue when exercising or be implanted inside an organ to make sure it was functioning correctly?
This may sound like a futuristic idea, but in reality, those health-monitoring patches are closer to being available then you think.
John Rogers, Ph.D and his engineering colleagues at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed such an electronic skin patch, which they reported on at the 243rd National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society in March 2012.
The electronic patches are similar to the silicon-based wafers that are found in smart phones or laptops but those types of chips are hard and brittle. The challenge in making the skin patches was to construct them to be flexible enough to tolerate the natural movement of skin so they would bend and stretch. These electronic chips instead are made using a wavy pattern.
The skin patches can be placed on the skin the same way a temporary tattoo is, using water and a backing that peels off. The patches are thin, about the thickness of a human hair and the wearers do not feel them once attached.
A spray on bandage is then applied over the electronic patch to protect the circuits from water and normal wear and tear. This allows the skin patch to remain protected for up to a week and even withstand showering with soapy water.
"A key feature of our epidermal electronics is its natural interface to the body, without wires, pins, adhesives or gels, to allow a much more comfortable and functional system," said Rogers. "The technology can be used to monitor brain, heart or muscle activity in a completely noninvasive way, while a patient is at home."
In the earlier models, the electronic patch could only send messages one way to report health measurements. Further development and animal testing has allowed the researchers to give the devices two-way capabilities.