The days of electronic circuitry with stiff circuit boards are a thing of the past; stretchable electronics are taking over. We already saw microelectronics used in sutures to monitor for infection, and now stretchable skin with microelectronics for monitoring health conditions is readying for a debut.
The key to creating sensing, stretchable skin relies on gold electrodes and other wires that are a few hundred nanometers thick. They are deposited in a serpentine fashion onto thin films of silicon wafers, then applied to the stretchable polymers. The serpentine nature of the sensor wires allows the wires to stretch with the patch.
So why stretchable skin? The wires act as sensors and pick up information about a patient's health and can report to doctors on a more real-time basis. This could allow for intervention before a medical situation gets serious.
Part of the plan is to have the patches wirelessly transmit information to nearby smartphones. Phones with near-field communication could be waved over the patch, or for more continuous monitoring the patch could include a thin film battery to allow for constant communication.
Cambridge, Massachusetts start up MC10 is behind the commercialization of the stretchable skin, building on the lab prototypes created by University of Illinois scientist John Rogers, who is a company co-founder — and also the scientist behind the prototype stretchable sutures.
The company's future plans include inflatable catheters to detect arrhythmias in heart tissue, adding other readings such as blood sugar, oxygenation and temperature to the sensors in the stretchable skin, and down the road creating implantable sensors that conform to brain tissue to warn of oncoming seizures and more.
The field of microelectronics in medicine is developing rapidly. Soon, wearing electrical sensors may be as commonplace as wearing jewelry as we look for new ways to stay healthy.