Second skin diagnoses symptoms then delivers drugs

New Scientist, 30 March 2014

Why wait for the doctor to see you? A smart patch attached to your skin could diagnose health problems automatically – and even administer drugs.

Monitoring movement disorders such as Parkinson's disease or epilepsy relies on video recordings of symptoms and personal surveys, says Dae-Hyeong Kim at the Seoul National University in South Korea. And although using wearable devices to monitor the vital signs of patients is theoretically possible, the wearable pads, straps and wrist bands that can do this are often cumbersome and inflexible.

To track the progression of symptoms and the response to medication more accurately would require devices that monitor cues from the body, store recorded data for pattern analysis and deliver therapeutic agents through the human skin in a controlled way, Kim says.

So Kim and his team have developed an adhesive patch that is flexible and can be worn on the wrist like a second skin.

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The patch is 1 millimetre thick and made of a hydrocolloid dressing – a type of thin flexible bandage. Into it they embedded a layer of silicon nanoparticles. These silicon nanomembranes are often used for flexible electronics, and can pick up the bend and stretch of human skin and convert these into small electronic signals. The signals are stored as data in separate memory cells made from layers of gold nanoparticles.

The device could be used to detect and treat tremors in people who have Parkinson's disease, or epileptic seizures, says Kim. If these movements are detected, small heaters in the patch trigger the release of drugs from silicon nanoparticles. The patch also contains temperature sensors to make sure the skin doesn't burn during the process.