Biosensor bandage collects vital signs, health indicators from sweat

Air Force Research Lab is developing a quick, non-invasive way to the kind of results you get from a blood test.

AFRL biosensor bandage

Researchers at the Air Force Research Laboratory are developing a device that could give airmen and others quick feedback on their vital signs, hydration levels, stress levels and other health information. The device? An adhesive bandage that analyzes their sweat.

The bandage would contain small biosensors that provide a non-invasive assessment of the same kind of information usually obtained from a blood test or medical scan—and do it a lot more quickly.

"Our vision is that every airman at the beginning of their week, will be able to put on an electronic band aid that will quantify everything about them," Dr. Josh Hagen, lead researcher of the group at the  711 Human Performance Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, said in a release. "It would measure the typical things a doctor would measure in a checkup."

Hagen said the bandages could improve physical training by helping users understand their optimum performance levels, and well as their fatigue levels. But they also could be used to monitor vital signs and stress levels of troops in the field, something the military has been pursuing with research into exoskeleton suits and other monitoring systems.

AFRL biosensor bandage

In an interview with the Defense Department’s Armed With Science website, Hagen compared the bandages to a car’s dashboard, but instead of delivering current information on speed, rpms and fuel level, it’s delivering information on heart rate, respiration, hydration and, perhaps eventually, potential medical problems. Anything that can be determined by analyzing a person’s perspiration.

In developing the biosensor, Hagen’s team and researchers at the University of Cincinnati are studying “the science of sweat” and how it relates to biomarkers in the blood, as well as medical conditions and physical performance, Hagen said.  

Information collected by the sensors could be stored on the chip and retrieved at the user’s convenience, or sent wirelessly to a smartphone app or other computer system.

AFRL currently is testing the wearable sensors on some Air Force personnel, collecting data from them into aggregate computers, and will have a few available for competitors in September’s Air Force Marathon.

And beyond military use, Hagen sees the possibility of commercializing the technology. It would be useful for athletes, firefighters or anyone whose job involves strenuous activity. And it could also benefit pediatrics by providing a non-invasive way to assess a child’s health.

 “We like to have our finger on the pulse, quite literally, with this technology,” Hagen told Armed With Science.

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