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Wearable Sensors for At-Home Patient Monitoring

Researchers have developed a lightweight, flexible device that conforms to a person's body.
By Mark Roberti
Dec 13, 2013

As the population in many industrialized countries ages, researchers worldwide have been developing technologies that would enable doctors to monitor patients at home, remotely and in real time. One challenge has been to develop a device that could be worn for long periods. Researchers at the Someya-Sekitani Organic Transistor Lab, at the University of Tokyo, Johannes Kepler University, in Austria, and the University of Texas at Dallas have taken a step in that direction. Together, they've developed ultrathin, organic sensors that one day could wirelessly communicate a patient's temperature, heart rate and other crucial data.

The researchers' goal was to create lightweight sensors that were thin enough and flexible enough that a patient would not be aware he or she was wearing them. For a device to be worn for long periods, it would have to be soft, compliant and allow for the natural motion of surrounding tissue. They developed sensors that are five times thinner than plastic kitchen wrap and lighter than a feather.

Most state-of-the-art integrated circuits, or "chips," are fabricated on rigid substrates, such as silicon or glass, that can't conform to soft body tissue. Sensors are integrated with these ICs, and in addition to being too rigid to wear, they often require a lot of energy to power them.

The researchers created sensors using a carbon-based semiconductor and an electroplated aluminum oxide dielectric layer on an ultrathin polymer foil that is highly flexible. After fabrication, an ultrathin polymer film is deposited on top of the device, to protect it from fluids, air and other environmental factors. The second polymer layer also alters the bending mechanics of the device, effectively reducing the strain in the sensors so the device can bend or crumple to conform to the movements of human skin.

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