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Top left: A shunt protruding from the brain during surgery. Top right: A researcher solders a new wearable shunt monitor. Bottom: A woman wears a new wearable shunt monitor on her neck. (Credit: Northwestern Uniersity)
Top left: A shunt protruding from the brain during surgery. Top right: A researcher solders a new wearable shunt monitor. Bottom: A woman wears a new wearable shunt monitor on her neck. (Credit: Northwestern Uniersity)

A new wireless, Band-Aid-like sensor could revolutionize the way patients manage hydrocephalus and potentially save the U.S. health care system millions of dollars. A Northwestern Medicine clinical study successfully tested the device, known as a wearable shunt monitor, on five adult patients with hydrocephalus.

The new sensor allowed patients in the study to determine within five minutes of placing it on their skin if fluid was flowing through their shunt. The soft and flexible sensor uses measurements of temperature and heat transfer to non-invasively tell if and how much fluid is flowing through.

Symptoms of a malfunctioning shunt, such as headaches and fatigue, are similar to symptoms of other illnesses, which causes confusion and stress for caregivers.

A very small rechargeable battery is built into the sensor. The device is Bluetooth enabled so it can talk to a smartphone and deliver the readings via an Android app. The sensor advances concepts in skin-like "epidermal electronics," which the Rogers Research Group has been working on for nearly a decade.

It uses a thermal transport measurement, which means the sensor uses tiny amounts of thermal power to minimally increase the temperature of the skin.

If the shunt is working and the excess cerebral spinal fluid is draining properly, the sensor will measure a characteristic heat signature. Similarly, if there is no flow because the shunt has malfunctioned, the sensor will be able to quickly indicate that through heat flow measurements.

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