Health and Medicine

Tattoo-like sensor actively monitors patient

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Lisa Winter

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clockDec 6 2013, 20:29 UTC
181 Tattoo-like sensor actively monitors patient
John Rogers, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Taking someone’s temperature is an incredibly useful and routine diagnostic tool. Increased temperature is one of the first clues that something is wrong with the body and is one of the easiest things to check. However, the process isn’t perfect. Currently, equipment that actively monitors body temperature is expensive and doesn’t allow much freedom for the patient. To alleviate this problem, a collaboration between researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) has yielded a thin, flexible device that continually monitors temperature without becoming a burden. The results have been reported in Nature Materials.


The device is quite small, measuring 1x2 centimeters. It has been described as “epidermal electronics” because it adheres to skin quite well, and even moves naturally with the patient without falling off, like an electronic layer of skin. It actually looks and feels much like a stick-on temporary tattoo. The array contains temperature sensors, heaters, transistors, a power supply, and an antenna, though it currently doesn’t have wireless data transmission. The heaters serve a therapeutic purpose, if needed.

Further developments of this array’s technology could even include the ability to detect certain metabolites, such as alcohol, vitamins, and antioxidants. Additionally, the research team hopes to add wireless capability to the device, which would allow medical professionals to monitor the patient remotely.

To test the efficacy of the device, the results of the sensor array were compared to readings taken with an infrared camera, which is generally considered to be the most reliable method of measurement. After a series of tests, there was almost no variation between the two methods. The device was also able to detect subtle differences in skin temperature due to blood flow. This works as a diagnostic tool for identifying cardiovascular problems and diabetes. It worked so well during these tests, the researchers indicate that it would work well as a rapid response tool for identifying cardiovascular issues.

With further development, there’s no telling how far this technology can go. It could be altered for drug delivery use, monitoring oxygen in the blood, blood sugar levels, and more. Additionally, if the device works remotely, a patient does not need to physically see a doctor to be monitored long term, as the information would be sent directly to medical staff. There is not any current information about when this device will be integrated into clinical use, but certain medical facilities have already contacted the researchers about its availability, in hopes to be some of the first clinics to give such accurate and personalized treatment to their patients.

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