January 27, 2016

Let them see you sweat: What new wearable sensors can reveal from perspiration

UC Berkeley engineers put their wearable sweat sensors to the test. (UC Berkeley video
produced by Roxanne Makasdjian and Stephen McNally, UC Berkeley)

(January 27, 2016)  When UC Berkeley engineers say they are going to make you sweat, it is all in the name of science.

Specifically, it is for a flexible sensor system that can measure metabolites and electrolytes in sweat, calibrate the data based upon skin temperature and sync the results in real time to a smartphone.

While health monitors have exploded onto the consumer electronics scene over the past decade, researchers say this device, reported in the Jan. 28 issue of the journal Nature, is the first fully integrated electronic system that can provide continuous, non-invasive monitoring of multiple biochemicals in sweat.

The advance opens doors to wearable devices that alert users to health problems such as fatigue, dehydration and dangerously high body temperatures.

Users wearing the flexible sensor array can run and move freely while the chemicals in their
sweat are measured and analyzed. The resulting data, which is transmitted wirelessly
to a mobile device, can be used to help assess and monitor a user’s state of health.
(Image by Der-Hsien Lien and Hiroki Ota, UC Berkeley)

“Human sweat contains physiologically rich information, thus making it an attractive body fluid for non-invasive wearable sensors,” said study principal investigator Ali Javey, a UC Berkeley professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences. “However, sweat is complex and it is necessary to measure multiple targets to extract meaningful information about your state of health. In this regard, we have developed a fully integrated system that simultaneously and selectively measures multiple sweat analytes, and wirelessly transmits the processed data to a smartphone. Our work presents a technology platform for sweat-based health monitors.”

The new sensor developed at UC Berkeley can be made into “smart” wristbands
or headbands that provide continuous, real-time analysis of the chemicals in sweat.
(UC Berkeley photo by Wei Gao)

Javey worked with study co-lead authors Wei Gao and Sam Emaminejad, both of whom are postdoctoral fellows in his lab. Emaminejad also has a joint appointment at the Stanford School of Medicine, and all three have affiliations with the Berkeley Sensor and Actuator Center and the Materials Sciences Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Chemical clues to a person’s physical condition

To help design the sweat sensor system, Javey and his team consulted exercise physiologist George Brooks, a UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology. Brooks said he was impressed when Javey and his team first approached him about the sensor.

Wearable sensors measure skin temperature in addition to glucose, lactate, sodium and
potassium in sweat. Integrated circuits analyze the data and transmit the information
wirelessly to a mobile phone. (Image by Der-Hsien Lien and Hiroki Ota, UC Berkeley)

“Having a wearable sweat sensor is really incredible because the metabolites and electrolytes measured by the Javey device are vitally important for the health and well-being of an individual,” said Brooks, a co-author on the study. “When studying the effects of exercise on human physiology, we typically take blood samples. With this non-invasive technology, someday it may be possible to know what’s going on physiologically without needle sticks or attaching little, disposable cups on you.”

journal reference >>