A sticky 'organ sensor' keeping up the weight of a 100 yen coin (Sunwon Lee)
A team of Japanese researchers have created the first sensor that can stick to organs and measure strain and electrical activity. It is weird science at its best and the future of this technology still has to be seen but it could change the engineering of devices like pacemakers. It could also be applied to just about any surface, so the possibilities are endless.
This sensor is gel-based and is made up of evenly distributed polyvinyl alcohol inside of a 'rotating gel' called polyrotaxane. The gel-like film has an array of sensors on a grid which can make contact with any surface without slipping, allowing it to measure electrical activity and strain. They have been manufacturing patterns in the gel using light and fabricating the sheet to coat electrodes in a grid pattern. So basically, they use the same electrode technology, but have found a better way to stick electrodes to the slippery, wet surface of organs long enough to get good readings.
These researchers are hoping to one day put these sensors on a human's still-beating heart to track everything from palpitations to heart murmurs. It can certainly change our future visits to the doctor. Although, it will be a long while before they are approved for use on humans.
At the moment, the research is promising and the prototypes have been tested successfully on the beating hearts of rats. When tested on rats, the sensors maintained a great connection with the heart for up to three hours and successfully created an electrocardiograph. The team has published their findings in the journal Nature Communications and will continue to develop their novel bio-sensor.
They also successfully measured strain by connecting sensors to knuckles and fingers. This technology could be instantly applicable in the growing market for wearable fitness trackers. In fact, this team is planning on expanding their efforts in that direction next to create a 24-hour fitness tracker that is practically weightless and creates no stress on the body. I suppose we'll all have to watch Kickstarter like a hawk for the release of that device in the coming years.
One question that comes to mind is if this device is so sticky, how do you get it off of a beating heart without causing damage? At least this is the question I was asking myself.
Fortunately, the device loses its grip when heat is applied. Although I would still be a bit worried if this was on my beating heat. Supposedly, the device should come off without causing a burden to the heart with some applied heat, patience ( and possibly some prayer).
This device is an offshoot of a sensor that this team developed in 2013 which was an organic transistor in a 1 micrometer thick polymeric film. It was during this research that they created the first sticky gel that can have patterns fabricated using light. These patterns allow sustainable, accurate biometric measurements on moving subjects, like runners. They are using this special gel in their current prototype of this organ sensor.
Overall, this is a pretty cool sensor that could have limitless possibilities in everything from the medical field to sportswear. I'm excited to see what these people cook up as 2015 rolls on.
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