Using biosensors in clothing

US scientists have developed durable biosensors that can be printed directly onto clothing. This could allow continuous biomedical monitoring outside hospitals.

The expenses associated with hospital treatment have spawned a growing interest in methods for home based healthcare management. A reliable, wearable, physiological monitoring system would allow at-home physiological surveillance, which could reduce the load on hospitals. Wearable sensors would also be useful for stress and drug monitoring in sport and the military. Physical sensors that monitor blood pressure or heart rate have been integrated into clothing but little attention has been paid to wearable chemical sensors.

Now, Joseph Wang and colleagues at the University of California San Diego, La Jolla have devloped a method for printing biosensors directly onto clothing. To form the sensors, Wang screen-printed carbon electrode arrays directly onto the elastic bands of mens’ underwear. The tight contact and direct exposure to the skin allows hydrogen peroxide and the enzyme NADH, which are both associated with numerous biomedical processes, to be monitored using the sensor, explains Wang.

Biosensors in briefs

Stresses associated with everyday wear, such as folding or stretching the clothing, did not affect the performance of the sensor, says Wang. He adds that this durability will allow many future applications of the technology.

Richard Compton at the University of Oxford, UK comments, ‘electrochemical sensors are widely used in niche applications and it is timely for a greater diversity of sensors to emerge, given the sensitivity and low cost of electrochemical measurements. I have full confidence in this idea coming to fruition.’

Wang adds that ‘on-body non-invasive textile-based sensing is extremely challenging and requires proper attention to the key issues regarding reliable sample delivery to the electrode surface as well as sensor calibration and interconnection.’ In future, he hopes to develop enzyme sensors for ethanol and lactate which could be used to monitor alchohol levels in drivers or stress levels in soldiers and athletes.

Jacob Bush

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