No more electrodes: Here come the temporary tattoos

 
By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: November 9th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat
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Most people who have been admitted into a hospital have some familiarity with electrodes. They’re messy, sticky and sometimes attached to a web of wires that can get tangled if a patient needs to get up and move around.

But these unwieldy monitoring systems may soon be a thing of the past. A new company has designed a wireless device so thin it can be applied to the skin like a temporary tattoo. These gadgets can monitor heart, brain and muscle activity without the patient really being aware of its presence.

In fact, these devices are so unobtrusive, they actually stick to the skin without adhesives. To develop them, the manufacturers took silicon circuits and twisted them into S-shaped chains that will bend and flex as a person moves. Then, they stuck the circuitry onto extremely thin rubber sheets that naturally adhere to skin. The patches will stay on the skin for about two weeks until the body’s natural exfoliation process causes them to fall off.

The patch has a multitude of uses. When affixed to the forehead, forearm or chest, it monitors activity just like a standard electrode. If applied to the throat, it’s sensitive enough to measure contractions during vocalization, which means it could help people who have difficulty speaking.

The lightweight design is being touted as particularly beneficial for those with chronic problems who require long-term monitoring or those with sleep disorders. It also could be helpful for monitoring premature babies.

The next step is using the device to deliver information to the body instead of just recording it. Working with scientists from Johns Hopkins, the manufacturers found that by placing patches on rats’ legs they were able to make the legs move through electrical stimulation.

Best of all, the chips could even be hidden under real temporary tattoos. And that could make a visit to the hospital a lot cooler.