Digital health researchers flock to smart clothing in studying sweat & COVID-19

Engineers from Tufts University demonstrate a new sensor for sweat detection, and Nanowear is teaming up with the New York City-Metro Health Systems to focus on remote detection of COVID-19.
By Laura Lovett
02:47 pm
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Sameer Sonkusale, Nano Lab, Tufts University

The old saying that you can tell a lot about a person from their clothing is about to get an update as digital health efforts look to embed sensors in garments. 

This morning engineers at Tufts University announced they have developed a new flexible sensor patch designed to analyze a wearer’s sweat. It can be sewn into clothing. 

Users can get insights into their sodium and ammonium ions, lactate and acidity. The sensor has the ability to communicate with a smartphone and collect real-time data. However, researchers have yet to commercialize the product. The design of the sensor patch was outlined in an article published in NPJ Flexible Electronics. Funds for the research were provided by the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, the Office of Naval Research, and the Government of India Department of Science and Technology.

“The sensor patch that we developed is part of a larger strategy to make completely flexible thread-based electronic devices,” said Sameer Sonkusale, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Tufts’ School of Engineering and corresponding author of the study. “Flexible devices woven into fabric and acting directly on the skin [mean] that we can track health and performance not only non-invasively, but completely unobtrusively – the wearer may not even feel it or notice it.”

Meanwhile, Nanowear, a company that has been developing smart clothing for years, announced a research collaboration with New York City-Metro Health Systems that is focused on remote detection of COVID-19. 

In the study, researchers plan to monitor patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 by using Nanowear’s cloth-based nanosensors, which were designed to detect clinical biomarker changes. Patients in the study will get a one-size-fits-all garment that's adjustable. This tool is supposed to measure ECG, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, respiration, lung volume and fluid, and temperature trends. 

WHY IT MATTERS 

As the coronavirus continues to effect large swaths of the United States, clinicians have been finding ways to take care of patients remotely. While telemedicine has become a new corner stone in care as a result, remote patient monitoring has also risen in popularity. 

“What we need to understand about COVID-19 is why certain patients develop a cytokine mediated immune response from the virus,” national principal investigator of the collaboration, Dr. Sameer Jamal, MD, of Hackensack Meridian Health, said in a statement. “This resulting inflammation within the circulatory system often leads to severe complications or death, which we have seen first-hand in New York City and the surrounding area. Diagnosis and co-morbidities alone [are] not enough to determine risk to admitted patients before they need to be transferred to ICU. Nanowear’s SimpleSENSE is giving us an exponential amount of relevant data metrics about the heart and lungs from an all-in-one product that should ultimately enable us to triage lower risk patients and stratify high risk patients.”

THE LARGER TREND 

Smart garments have been a conversation in digital health for some time. In 2016 Nanowear landed an FDA clearance for SimpliECG, a remote cardiac-monitoring undergarment.

Another company in the space is Paris-based Chronolife, which launched its CE-marked smart T-shirt, Nexkin, commercially in December. The shirt is able to monitor six physiological indicators, and is designed for risk-reduction and prevention programs. 

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