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Latest generation of wearable sensor
in UC's Novel Devices Lab

Working on the next generation of wearables at University of Cincinnati

by Lauren Dubinsky , Senior Reporter
A team at the University of Cincinnati’s Novel Devices Lab is working hard to create the next generation of wearable biosensors.

Jason Heikenfeld, director of the Novel Devices Lab, published a critical review of biosensor research this month in the journal Lab on a Chip that discussed scientific accomplishments in the field and the challenges that remain.

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He explained that the skin can provide biosensors with misleading data because it harbors bacteria and salt from dried sweat. An effective biosensor needs to bend and stretch like skin as well as account for noise within the body and in the environment when tracking the heartbeat.

Heikenfeld is also co-founder and chief science officer for a company that develops sweat biosensors called Eccrine Systems Inc. They are currently working on finding new ways to continuously track biometric information over time.

“For wearables, it is about continuously accessing a tiny yet high-quality sample of biofluid (interstitial fluid, sweat, tears, saliva, etc.),” Heikenfeld, told HCB News. “This is a challenge in itself that can be plagued by contamination and other issues.”

He added that wearables collect biofluid in the form of microliters or nanoliters. Because of that, reliable sensors are needed that can continuously work with small sample volumes and not be degraded by the other chemicals in the biofluid.

The Novel Devices Lab team is working on devices the size of a Band-Aid that generate sweat on a tiny patch of skin and wick it away, to sensors that measure substances like glucose. The subject can remain in a resting state while that is happening.

“For sweat, it’s simple in theory but tough in practice. You need to get the sample immediately off the skin surface and quickly transport it to a sensor before the sample itself degrades,” said Heikenfeld. “In some cases, you need a sensor surface that can recognize the chemical analytes of interest over the huge number of other chemical analytes that are present.”

The team is also working on a noninvasive technique that makes sweat glands more permeable so that sensors can record more detailed data.

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