‘Electronic tattoo’ can revamp monitoring of patients

12 Aug 2011

An ‘electronic tattoo’ thinner than a human hair can revolutionise the way doctors and nurses monitor patients.

US scientists have used the device to monitor the heart and brain, doing away with traditional equipment such as pad, wires, cables and monitors, a study in the journal Science reports.

The sensor, which includes tiny solar cells that can generate power or obtain energy from electromagnetic radiation, is mounted onto a water-soluble sheet of plastic and attached to the body by brushing with water, just like a temporary tattoo.

In the study, the 50-micrometres thick device was used to measure electrical activity in the leg, heart and brain. It revealed “measurements agree remarkably well” with those taken by traditional methods. The device was worn for up to 24 hours without loss of function or skin irritation.

The sensor could be especially useful when it comes to monitoring premature babies or in the study of sleep apnea patients, who wouldn’t have to wear wires through the night, researchers said.

With respect to long-term use, a new sensor would have to be applied to a patient at least every two weeks because the skin constantly produces new cells – while cells at the skin’s surface die, they are brushed off.

Image: Courtesy of J. Rogers, University of Illinois, shows an epidermal electronic system (University of Illinois, J. Rogers)