UC Berkeley, Stanford researchers develop perspiration-based sensor system

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A team of researchers from UC Berkeley and Stanford University has created a perspiration-based sensor system that can provide information about the body.

The system, as explained in the Wednesday issue of the scientific journal Nature, utilizes sensors to report on one’s physiological state by measuring the chemical substances in sweat.

The team’s innovation is particularly significant because it is noninvasive — unlike blood samples — according to Ali Javey, the study’s principal investigator and a campus professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences.

“We think this (technology) can be very important in people’s daily lives, especially for athletes,” said Wei Gao, a postdoctoral fellow in Javey’s laboratory and one of the co-lead authors of the study.

According to Gao, the system is composed of sensors that measure four different aspects of perspiration: sodium, potassium, glucose and lactate.

These readings can diagnose an individual’s state of health; for example, measurements of sodium and potassium can monitor hydration and muscle cramps, according to Gao. The body’s skin temperature serves to ensure the accuracy of the sensors, Gao added.

The team developed the capability to monitor multiple chemicals and changes in their concentrations over time and developed sensors that would be selective to each chemical. The sensors use integrated circuits that are consolidated onto a printed circuit board, all made out of a flexible material.

According to Gao, this “microcomputer” takes all the measurements from the sensors and creates a current that can be sent to a smartphone via a Bluetooth module.

“We wanted this to be a self-standing device that you could comfortably wear, and in this particular case, we wanted to make sure that there’s no wire coming out of the sensor,” Javey said.

This innovation, however, is only one stride in the series of goals that Javey and his team are looking to achieve, according to Javey.

As Javey explained, prior to the development of this technology, sweat analyses required putting the subject on a specific diet and collecting nearly 10 milliliters of sweat. Because the sensors developed by Javey’s team require only a fifth of a drop of sweat for results, Javey said they hope to be able to expand their use to large population studies, among other new potential uses.

“As we speak, we have already extended the sensors to other chemicals,” Javey said.

The team is looking to use its sensor system to measure daily stress levels, as well as the efficacy of medications, according to Javey. Gao expressed hope that the device would be commercialized.

“The goal is to really develop this generic platform that can get information about your medical or clinical condition,” Javey said.

Ericka Shin covers research and ideas. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ericka_shin.