Real-time health monitoring more than just skin deep

Researchers at Monash University have created a wearable electronic skin that can provide real-time health monitoring.

Researchers at Monash University are at the forefront of a world-first breakthrough in wearable electronic skin that can interact with organs in the body to provide real-time health monitoring.

Professor Wenlong Cheng, Dr Yan Wang and Dr Shu Gong from the University’s Faculty of Engineering have spent three years researching, developing and patenting this stretchable electronic device that can match the mechanical properties of soft tissue.

This device has the ability to track health signals from muscle strain and blood pressure, to cholesterol and glucose levels. Information can be monitored on any smartphone via Bluetooth.

“Current healthcare treatment is hospital-centred because of our dependence on expensive, heavy diagnostic tools that are only available in specialised medical practices and require trained personnel to operate. Wearable biodiagnostics can overcome this limitation and move towards better patient-centred healthcare,” Professor Cheng said.

Researchers have developed this skin-like device by placing extremely thin gold nanowires, each with a diameter equal to one thousandth of a human hair, in a clean elastomeric sheet that can be stretched up to nine times its original size without tearing.

Remarkably, trials have shown that the wearable skin can still provide 93% data accuracy even after 2000 stretch and release cycles of up to 800% strain.

A number of successful wearable prototypes have already been developed from this unconventional gold nanowire film.

Professor Cheng said the device is highly durable and portable which allows it to be worn or implanted into any part of the body.

“Current wearables are rigid and bulky, which cause discomfort to the human body, and can cost thousands of dollars. If we can design skin-like diagnostic materials that are thin, soft, portable and comfortable we can fundamentally change the way healthcare is managed in Australia,” Professor Cheng said.

On the back of this innovation, Dr Cheng said he’s passionate about forming a centre dedicated to stretchable electronics, contributing to the paradigm shift in healthcare, automation and artificial intelligence.

“We will need a multidisciplinary team comprising electrical engineers, data scientists, clinicians, end-users and industry to work together in order to transform current inventions into real-world products,” Dr Cheng said.

“Opportunities are endless and we at Monash are at the forefront of technological innovations which can help millions of Australians to improve their health.”

The research group is looking forward to taking this wearable electronic skin a step further by applying it to real-world cases in the near future.