MADRID – A team of Spanish researchers unveiled on Friday an award-winning self-powered, wearable, smart patch for early medical diagnosis of cystic fibrosis – a progressive genetic disease that primarily affects the lungs – becoming one of the latest innovations of digitally powered wearable technology.
The smart-patch, created by a team from Spain’s National Research Council (CSIC), is one of the latest products to be launched in the Internet of Wearables (IoW) sector, devices composed of flexible smart transducers attached around the human body that are able to communicate wirelessly.
Extensive trials over the past two years have focused on using the patch as an early warning diagnostic tool for cystic fibrosis, the most extended rare disease in the Western World, affecting some 2,500 people in Spain.
The abstract on this medical diagnostic device – worn on the patient’s skin and powered by a paper battery – was published in the Microsystems & Nanoengineering Journal and, according to its authors, this breakthrough will enable a “much more early diagnosis” of this chronic disease which often appears, gradually, at childhood.
Their research tests resorted to using artificial sweat given cystic fibrosis can be detected by high salinity levels in the bodily fluid.
The next trial phase of this clinical study will take place at Barcelona’s Sant Joan de Deu hospital, for which the research team of the CSIC’s microelectronics Institute has already secured a grant, according to Neus Sabate, project lead researcher and professor at the Catalonian Institute for Advanced Studies and Research (ICREA.)
According to the Spanish Federation of Cystic Fibrosis, this disease affects secretion-producing regions of the body within a swollen or infected lung, liver, pancreas and reproductive system tissue.
There is no known cure for this disease but medical science does offer treatments that manage some of its symptoms thus “improving the quality of life of these patients and increasing their chances of living longer” Sabate added.
The recently patented smart device, which can also be used on adults, is expected to have an affordable price tag of around ten euros.
When the device gets wet the patch undergoes an electrochemical reaction activating its two electrodes attached to the paper battery: if the fluid shows higher conductivity, (more saltiness thus, more chloride) the device will generate a higher electrical output and if there is less (less saltiness, thus less chloride) its electrical conductivity output will remain lower.
The patch, however, is not a direct diagnostic device but instead resorts to screening – a medical strategy used to try and identify the presence of an undiagnosed disease among individuals showing no signs or symptoms – in brief, it behaves like an early warning system.
If the device gives a warning – higher salinity levels in sweat – those results must be further validated at a cystic fibrosis medical unit.
The project’s lead researchers hope to see their product in hospitals, as a fast diagnostic tool, sometime in the future.
As Sabate explains, in many instances children’s symptoms are often confusing and, until a final diagnosis is reached, they spend a long time being analyzed in various medical units like pneumology.
Juan Pablo Esquivel, another project researcher explains in a CSIC note that the device has no external power source making it very easy to use.
“It would allow testing without resorting to, often expensive, additional medical equipment, making it available at many more hospitals and health centers,” he explained.
Smart wearables are becoming a huge and fast-growing market that will be deployed during the next decade by merging their users’ data with the Cloud in an almost seamless way.
Biological fluids, such as sweat, tears, saliva, and urine will offer the possibility to access the body’s molecular-level in a non-invasive way, in real time.
These devices will have a massive range of applications: in sports, defense, health care, safety at work, or even augmented social interactions.
In line with this strategy, this research team is already seeking spin-off applications to their smart patch such as sweat analysis in sports or among firefighters to detect early dehydration symptoms or even measuring salinity levels in irrigation water.
This cystic fibrosis diagnostic device won the 2018 Best Product-Prototype award by the Organic and Printed Electronics Association, the leading international body for emerging technologies of organic and printed electronics.