The Lab on the Skin is completely nonirritating and biocompatible. (Credit: Northwestern University)

A soft, flexible microfluidic system is the next generation of bio-integrated wearable technology. The Lab on the Skin device couples perfectly with the skin to capture and analyze the chemistry of sweat — yet is as thin and flexible as a temporary tattoo. The Lab reports on key biomarkers detected in sweat, communicates wirelessly, and can connect with other devices for a more comprehensive snapshot of the wearer’s health.

The developer is now already moving beyond just sweat to implement the technology in various clinical settings: to monitor infants in the hospital, to detect the presence of a biomarker for cystic fibrosis, and to use inside the body — on the heart and even on the brain.

The Lab on the Skin uses concepts in bio-integrated engineering and microsystems technology to detect electrolytes and complex chemical species released through sweat during exercise, thereby providing insights into physiological health non-invasively, while communicating with digital devices to pass along the information. In the future, it could have even more applications where electronics integrate inside the body, for monitoring of chemistry and even regulating the body’s health.

A little larger than a quarter and about the same thickness, but in a soft, flexible form like the skin itself, this simple, low-cost device analyzes key biomarkers to allow a person to make adjustments, such as drinking more water or replenishing electrolytes, if medical imbalances arise. The team has been able to create technologies that blur the interface between technology and biology, to establish “an interface for the skin that is more like a temporary tattoo, rather than a Fitbit.”