Science Fiction or Science Future: Wearable Tech That Could Diagnose Cystic Fibrosis?

Researchers from Stanford University’s School of Medicine have been working on a wristband that measures blood sugar from a drop of sweat, and could be used to diagnose cystic fibrosis and other diseases. The sensor works by collecting sweat and measuring molecules before electronically transmitting the results for analysis, according to a Stanford University study published on April 17, 2017. This new wearable tech is still in development and doesn’t have an official release date. “This is a huge step forward,” said Carlos Milla, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at Stanford. Milla is a senior author on the study along with Ronald Davis, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and genetics at Stanford. Graduate student Sam Emaminejad also served as a co-lead author on the project.

How Does the Device Work?

Davis says “the two-part system of flexible sensors and microprocessors sticks to the skin, stimulates the sweat glands and then detects the presence of different molecules and ions based on their electrical signals.” The more chloride in the sweat, for example, the more electrical voltage is generated at the sensor’s surface. The Stanford Medicine team used the wearable sweat sensor in separate studies to detect chloride ion levels (high levels can be an indicator of cystic fibrosis) and to compare levels of glucose in sweat to that in blood. High blood glucose levels can indicate diabetes.

“It was not painful and could be worn strapped to the arm, and It could be like a watch,” says Emaminejad, co-lead author, told NBC News. NBC reports that earlier last year the team tested the bands on volunteers and measured blood sugar and minerals associated with flareups of cystic fibrosis in their volunteers. Such a device might be useful for monitoring a patient’s response to drugs.

What Does This Mean for Consumers?

Consumers living in areas of the country underserved by health facilities could greatly benefit from a portable, self-contained sweat sensor. The wristband can also be synched with a smartphone, which can send data to the cloud and receive results after review at a specialized center. Any diagnoses could be done through the convenience of wearable tech and without the involvement of medical staff.

The sensor is not only for diagnosis and monitoring. Milla said that It could also be used to help with drug development and drug personalization. The technology could also be used to measure other molecular constituents of sweat, such as sodium and potassium ions and lactate say Milla. The platform can be used to measure virtually anything found in sweat.

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