Health-monitoring wearable makes you sweat even when you’re sitting still

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Why it matters to you

This smart biosensor could help revolutionize remote diagnosis and monitoring.

For many of us, sweat is little more than a reminder of traumatic high school gym classes and involuntary nervous reactions to teenage crushes. In fact, it can be pretty darn useful — whether it’s used as the basis of a UC San Diego device that turns sweat into a mode of electricity generation, an MIT shirt that uses sweat to cool you down, or a new project from researchers at the University of Cincinnati.

What University of Cincinnati engineers have developed is a smart biosensor that prompts users to sweat, even when they’re resting and cool. The size of a Band-Aid, the hope is that the device may be able to help revolutionize remote diagnosis and monitoring.

“The advantage over a blood draw at the doctor’s office is simple: with sweat it can be painless, non-invasive, and continuous,” University of Cincinnati professor Jason Heikenfeld told Digital Trends. “Continuous is important because you often go see the doctor after you feel ill, or they pull an athlete off the field after they have a massive leg cramp due to dehydration. Instead, with sweat, you can be preventative and do key chemical measurements on your body while living your daily life. Sweat is also powerful, because it could start to allow you to see how your day-to-day choices affect your well-being, so you can be proactive as well.”

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The big challenge with sweat biomonitoring, of course, is that most of us only significantly sweat during exercise. That’s where the new device comes into play, by initiating sweat stimulation — and then combining that with sensing in the same device. The most obvious way to initiate sweat would be with heat, but this wearable instead uses a combination of a chemical called carbachol, that’s normally used in eyedrops, and a tiny electrical current of 0.2 milliamps.

Potential applications for the wearable include preventing dehydration, monitoring mental or physical performance in athletes, and measuring stress response — or even how much of a certain prescription drug is present in your blood and how well it is working.

“Universities are great at innovation and discovery, and we are happy to play that part. However, to ensure our breakthroughs are able to reach the market and actually help people, early on we co-founded a startup company, Eccrine Systems,” Heikenfeld said, concerning future availability of the device. “The discovery part is hard, but commercializing the discovery is even harder. We are fortunate to have a strong commercialization partner to do that even more difficult but critically important part.”

In other words, don’t sweat it: This smart wearable will be available sometime soon.

A research paper on this work was published in the journal Lab on a Chip.