Electrical engineers at the Novel Devices Lab at theUniversity of Cincinnati have created a lightweight, wearable device that can analyze sweat using a smartphone, which, they say, can gather vital medical information in almost real time, and provide more accurate health diagnostics in a way that is considerably less invasive than a blood test. Potential uses could include monitoring athletes during competitions, monitoring vitals of premature infants, and possibly checking glucose levels of people with diabetes.

Jason Heikenfeld, a professor of electrical engineering and computing systems, says the patches are light and flexible and use paper microfluidics, similar to that of a home pregnancy test, to collect and gather biomarkers carried in sweat. Those biomarkers can signal the physical state of the body. He explains that the patch wicks sweat in a tree-root pattern, maximizing the collection area while minimizing the volume of paper.

The researchers built a sodium sensor, voltage meter, communications antenna, microfluidics, and a controller chip onto the patch that is externally powered by a smartphone. Industry partners are expected to start human trials with the patch before the end of the year. Pilot program testing on college athletes could begin early next year. A second-generation patch using secure Bluetooth technology is nearly complete.

Future applications for the patch could involve drug monitoring. “Ultimately, sweat analysis will offer minute-by-minute insight into what is happening in the body, with on-demand, localized, electronically stimulated sweat sampling in a manner that is convenient and unobtrusive,” Heikenfeld says.