Stretchable electronic patches
April 14, 2014
by Mark Ollig

After the interruption of spring, caused by the brief re-appearance of winter snow, yours truly finally feels confident in saying, “The snow and cold is behind us.”

The warmth of the recent sun-filled days melted the snow, and has hopefully left all of us feeling rejuvenated, as we anticipate the approaching summer months.

A mystery photo I posted on my Facebook page brought a couple interesting comments: “What is this? A solar paneled something?”

Another asked, “What’s that? R2D2 sun razor?”

The photo was of a thin, flexible, high-tech, future-looking, stick-on skin patch positioned on the arm of someone using it to monitor their body’s vital signs.

Of course, there are other stick-on medical patches, but this one is unique because of how it uses microfluidic construction.

This allows programmable electronics to be attached to a thin, elastic casing filled with fluid within the base of a wearable patch.

This patch’s electronic components are connected using special pleated wiring, arranged in a paper-folding, origami-like fashion.

The electronic chip components are bonded to the underlying patch, yet suspended by using small-scale support points.

This method of bonding allows the patch to bend and be flexible, without the linked components being compromised.

These components are made up of smaller capacitors, batteries, radio transmitters, sensors, power inductors, filters, and other small-scale electronic devices.

The components on the patch are designed to be, eventually, wirelessly powered.

The patch itself is extremely soft, and can be easily attached and removed from the skin’s surface.

One important advantage of using this microfluidic patch is its use of special wiring which can extend and unfold itself while the patch is twisted, or is bending. This prevents the attached electronic components from becoming disconnected.

“When you measure motion on a wristwatch-type device, your body is not very accurately or reliably coupled to the device,” said John A. Rogers, a Swanland Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois.

Rogers, along with Yonggang Huang of Northwestern University, developed this new health monitoring electronic stick-on patch.

“We designed this device to monitor human health 24/7, but without interfering with a person’s daily activity,” Huang said.

The stick-on patch is designed to be comfortably worn during the day or night.

So, what can this medical patch actually monitor?

For starters, your EKG (electrocardiogram) and EEG (electroencephalogram) information can be monitored and the data sent to your cellphone or computer.

This data will then be transmitted directly to your doctor or healthcare provider’s clinic.

Improved measurements should be obtained using this new patch versus a wrist-worn device as the patch would be continuously adhered to the skin, whereas, normal movement or twisting while wearing a wrist-worn monitoring device produces background noise, which can cause incorrect readings.

A user requiring long-term monitoring, such as needed for sleep studies or stress testing, can use this new patch while going about their normal physical movements and behaviors without worrying about the patch disconnecting.

This was confirmed when researchers did side-by-side comparison testing using traditional EKG and EEG monitors on patients.

They found the new wireless stick-on skin patch performed similarly to the traditional sensors and monitors used. Also, wearing the patch was more comfortable for the patients.

When attached or bonded on the skin, the modern sensors, circuits, radio, and power supply systems affixed on this small patch have the ability to produce quality health-monitoring results.

“The application of stretchable electronics to medicine has a lot of potential,” Soud Huang. “If we can continuously monitor our health with a comfortable, small device that attaches to our skin, it could be possible to catch health conditions before experiencing pain, discomfort, and illness.”

A video demonstrating the flexibility of this new stick-on, stretchable electronic medical patch can be seen at: http://tinyurl.com/bytes-stickon1.

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