One highly popular target has been reached in the pursuit of wearable technology that promises to revolutionize health care, according to researchers at Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin. it is a noninvasive way for blood pressure to be monitored continuously at home.
Moreover, this new technology comes in a surprising form: a temporary tattoo. Yes, you read that right: It is similar to the kind children like to wear. These thin, sticker-like wearable electronic tattoos are capable of continuously monitoring blood pressure, the researchers report in their new study.
People have been able to check their blood pressure at home for many years now. These machines work just like the ones used by doctors at their offices: You place your arm in the cuff, push a button, feel the squeeze on your arm, and get a reading.
The result of this method is a set of accurate numbers, but these are also just for a moment in time. Our blood pressure can fluctuate greatly throughout the day, especially in those with labile hypertension, where blood pressure fluctuates from extremes to extremes. So, looking at snapshots instead of examining long-term data sets is like examining a pointillism painting, in which one can see some individual dots but will miss the big picture.
Continuous monitoring may also help stop doctors from giving false readings due to “white coat syndrome.” This is when people’s blood pressure rises as a result of the anxiety of being at the doctor’s office but not because they are actually hypertensive.
Being able to monitor someone’s blood pressure constantly for a day or two could give a clearer and more accurate glimpse into a person’s health.
Health Monitoring Tattoos: How Do They Work?
John A. Rogers, PhD, of Northwestern University first proposed the idea of monitoring health through temporary tattoos 12 years ago. One such idea was a UV monitoring tattoo, and has been adapted by scientists and sold on the market. According to University of Texas at Austin professor of electrical and computer engineering Deji Akinwande, PhD, the previous models were not suitable for the task of monitoring blood pressure.
“[UV monitoring tattoos] are very thick,” he says. “They create too much movement when used to measure blood pressure because they slide around.”
That’s why the Texas-based research team was driven to create a more sustainable option that was thinner and sturdier.
“The key ingredient within e-tattoos is graphene,” explains Akinwande.
Graphene is a type of carbon, like the stuff inside your pencil. It is conductive, which means it can transfer electricity easily through your skin. As an effective solution for measuring blood pressure, graphene can help people do a bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA), a kind of technology that is like that found in the smart scales that measure body fat.
With e-tattoos, thin layers of graphene adhere to the skin and do not slide around, so there are no “artifacts,” or bad data. It is possible to wear graphene e-tattoos for roughly a week – or the same amount of time as temporary tattoos.
Following the acquisition of raw data by graphene, a machine learning algorithm interprets the information and provides blood pressure results in millimeters of mercury (mmHg), commonly called blood pressure “points.”
What is the accuracy of the results?
Blood pressure was measured within 0.2 ± 5.8 mmHg (systolic), 0.2 ± 4.5 mmHg (diastolic) and 0.1 ± 5.3 mmHg (mean arterial pressure). In other words, when an average basketball player shoots hoops, most of the shots will go in the hoop and occasionally a few will fall off the rim. It will provide great accuracy.
E-Tattoos: When Will They Be Available?
Jafari and Akinwande are developing a second generation of their e-tattoo that they expect to be available five years from now.
“Everyone can benefit from knowing their blood pressure recordings,” Akinwande says. “It is not just for people at risk for hypertension, but for others to proactively monitor their health, for stress and other factors.”
The upgrade is more in line with what most people would prefer to have. It is compatible with bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and Near-Field Communication (NFC) to transfer data and give it power. These new updates make e-tattoos that could continuously monitor blood pressure ready for clinical trials, with widespread use to follow soon after.