Researchers at the National University of Singapore have developed an ultrathin, flexible microfiber sensor that can be worn on or placed next to the skin. The device can provide information on heart rate, blood pressure, and stiffness in blood vessels, and may one day replace bulky blood pressure and heart rate monitors. The technology might also be useful as a component in wearable devices that provide continuous health monitoring, or could help doctors with diagnostics.

“Currently, doctors will monitor vital signs like heart rate and blood pressure when patients visit clinics. This requires equipment such as heart rate and blood pressure monitors, which is often bulky and may not provide instantaneous feedback,” says Lim Chwee Teck, a researcher involved in the study.

The research team set out to design something that could integrate with wearable devices and that is smaller, more portable, and less expensive than equivalent traditional equipment. Their design incorporates a liquid metallic alloy, which acts as a sensing element, within a soft and flexible silicone microtube. The sensing element is highly sensitive to mechanical deformation, and when placed on the skin can sense and relay information about the pulsatile movement of blood vessels.

“As our sensor functions like a conductive thread, it can be easily woven into a glove which can be worn by doctors to track vital signs of patients in real-time. This approach offers convenience and saves time for healthcare workers, while patients can enjoy greater comfort,” says Chwee Teck.

The microfiber can measure a patient’s pulse waveform in real-time. This data can then be used to extrapolate heart rate and blood pressure. It can also assess stiffness in blood vessels, which could be useful for patients suffering from atherosclerosis, as current methods to detect plaques, such as CT or MRI scans, require expensive and bulky equipment.

Another application lies in monitoring the force exerted by pressure bandages for venous ulcers. By weaving the sensor directly into the bandage, it can measure the pressure exerted by the bandage over time, and allow clinicians to know if the dressing is too tight or too loose.

“Our microfibre sensor is highly versatile, and could potentially be used for a wide range of applications, including healthcare monitoring, smart medical prosthetic devices and artificial skins,” said Chwee Teck.

Study in Advanced Materials Technologies: Ultrathin and Wearable Microtubular Epidermal Sensor for Real-Time Physiological Pulse Monitoring…

Via: National University of Singapore…