The power of the patch: New project aims to make innovative device to empower consumer health

The power of the patch: New project aims to make innovative device to empower consumer health

August 22, 2016

  • As technology improves to shrink down the clinical lab, an adhesive bandage patch with embedded sensors and circuits could allow for people to quickly and inexpensively check their health status for infectious diseases and cancer. In the photo is a green ASU Flexible OLED display test structure on a 6″ plastic substrate, glued in place by a temporary adhesive material on rigid backbone. After thin film processing, flexible OLEDs are simply peeled off like a Post-it note, and could even be sandwiched to absorbing sensing materials to measure biomarkers through the skin.


    Download Photo
  • Karen Anderson is an ASU scientist who sees firsthand patient’s struggles with cancer while making rounds as a Mayo Clinic oncologist. Now, she wants to make a difference for people to quickly and inexpensively check their health status. 


    Download Photo
  • Jennifer Blain Christen is an ASU electrical engineer who is pushing the boundaries of sensors and circuits technology to improve health care. She is engineering a device that utilizes the latest advances in ASU’s Flexible Display Center technology to customize the fit of the biosensor patch.


    Download Photo

August 22, 2016

Karen Anderson is an ASU scientist who sees firsthand patient’s struggles with cancer while making rounds as a Mayo Clinic oncologist. Jennifer Blain Christen is an ASU electrical engineer who is pushing the boundaries of sensors and circuits technology to improve health care.

Together, the ASU dynamic duo has combined their expertise to make a difference for people to quickly and inexpensively check their health status.

Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, and Blain Christen, Ph.D., of the School of Electrical, Computer, and Energy Engineering in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, are making steady progress on a $1.8 million grant from the Smart and Connected Health Division of the National Science Foundation to make their dream point-of-care technology a reality.

They will create a patch that, by simply absorbing people’s sweat, will track specific biomarkers, biological molecules that can indicate the presence of a disease or infection. In their vision, biomarker information could be relayed to one’s smartphone, making an instant check of biomarkers, and their predictive power for health, as easy (and hopefully popular) as today’s fitness trackers.

“This technology decreases the burden on health care workers and empowers a person to have a more intimate knowledge of what’s going on in their body,” said Blain Christen. “And what’s in your phone is more powerful than what we had in a big computer just ten years ago. We don’t have to worry about computation in our patch if we can just get data to this incredible computer now found in everyone’s pockets.”

The technology Anderson and Blain Christen are developing relies on fluorescence detection, used in the biosciences to accurately measure the amount of biomarkers present, including those that may predict early detection of cancer, diabetes or infection. The device also utilizes the latest advances in ASU’s Flexible Display Center technology to customize the fit of the patch, contouring smoothly to a person’s skin, and lowering the overall production costs by packing all of the sensor technology within the patch.

The biggest challenges the scientists have faced in refining their technology include determining what biomarkers are useful to measure in sweat, how to measure molecules present in largely different concentrations, and how to make this device accessible to everyone.

“The best tests are only good tests if they can get to people,” said Anderson. Anderson and Blain Christen will be using the latest grant funds to confront these challenges, iron out the details of integrating their technology with smartphones and enhance their first prototype. They predict that the technology will be available for consumers within several years.

Collaboration was essential for establishing the feasibility of creating a point-of-care platform technology and applying for development funding. Anderson and Blain Christen both relied on the help of Ben Katchman, a postdoctoral fellow working with Anderson at the Biodesign Institute, as well as Joseph Smith, a member of the Flexible Electronics and Display Center at ASU.

As Anderson explains, “Part of the reason why I came to the Biodesign Institute, and an exciting part of what we do, is that we get to cross disciplines in ways that are very difficult to do in other institutions. This is something that makes ASU really unique.”

The technology Anderson and Blain Christen are developing is a shining example of ASU interdisciplinary collaboration that has the potential to revolutionize personal healthcare. By combining their knowledge of biology and engineering, the pair has developed a device that will one day allow consumers to more easily take charge of their health. 

 

Written by: Joe Caspermeyer