'Smart' Underpants For Home Health Care
Nifty thick-film textile-based amperometric biosensors may sneak into your underpants thanks to a new process for printing electrochemical sensors directly into elastic bands like those used in underwear.
The intent for the new technology is to help save health care costs in those situations when a patient might be sent home with suitable monitoring equipment rather than remaining in a costly health care setting. Most on-body monitoring systems are bulky and must be supervised by health care workers; if it was possible to build monitoring sensors into regular clothing, a significant obstacle to home health care could be removed.
In their paper Thick-film textile-based amperometric sensors and biosensors, researchers Yang-Li Yang ab, Min-Chieh Chuang a, Shyh- Liang Lou b and Joseph Wang describe how their process works.
"We have illustrated the direct screen-printing of amperometric carbon sensors onto clothing and the favorable electrochemical behavior of such textile-based sensors. Convenient measurements of hydrogen peroxide and NADH have been documented. Mechanical stress studies, relevant to the wearer's daily activity, have indicated that textile-based printed sensors survive large deformations. Both bending and stretching of the textile substrate have minimal detrimental effect upon the electrochemical measurements, and in some instances (e.g., for measurements of hydrogen peroxide) even lead to enhanced signals...
"Future efforts in this direction will also include the incorporation of a chemically-selective layer (e.g., permselective coating or enzyme layer) and assessment of the role of the clothing deformation upon the performance and stability of such layers towards textile-based healthcare and soldier monitoring systems. Particularly attractive will be dehydrogenase- and oxidase-based enzyme sensors for ethanol and lactate, respectively, in connection with monitoring alcohol consumption in drivers or performance/stress of soldiers/ athletes. Unlike glucose sweat levels, the concentration of alcohol or lactate in sweat has a significant clinical relevance. The large surface area of clothing could be used for integrating the necessary supporting electronic, display, power and communication functions (without external devices) and hence for communicating relevant health parameters. While clothing-integrated electrochemical sensors hold considerable promise for future healthcare, military or sport applications, such non-invasive textile-based sensing requires proper attention to key challenges of sample delivery to the electrode surface and of sensor calibration and interconnection."
Science fiction fans are already used to the idea of underwear and clothing that monitors the physical characteristics of the wearer. In his 1988 novel Wetware, Rudy Rucker did a great job of predicting this kind of device, introducing what he called the heartshirt:
"Della's first present was an imipolex sweatshirt called a heartshirt…The heartshirt was an even dark blue, except for a few staticky red spots drifting about.
"'It can feel your heartbeat … look.' Sure enough there was a big red spot on the plastic shirt just over her heart..."
(Read more about the heartshirt)
(This Science Fiction in the News story used with permission of Technovelgy.com)