Soldiers' lives could be saved by health sensor in their pants


25 March 2010

The future wellbeing of our soldiers will be improved thanks to biomedical health sensors in their pants, according to scientists. 

Researchers integrated chemical sensors into two brands of briefs which will allow constant monitoring of blood pressure and heart rate. They found printing sensors directly on the elastic waist of underwear offered the necessary tight direct contact with the skin and said the design will be of great benefit not just to the military, but also to the healthcare and sport industries.

Sleek, lightweight battlesuits that provide everything from responsive armour to biomedical monitoring are seen by the defence industry as a vital part of a soldier's kit of the future.

To create the sensors, Joseph Wang and colleagues at the at the University of California San Diego, La Jolla, screen-printed carbon electrode arrays directly on to the elastic bands of men's underwear. The tight contact and direct exposure to the skin allowed hydrogen peroxide and NADH, which are both associated with numerous biomedical processes, to be monitored. The researchers tested the special pants for their durability and found stresses associated with everyday wear, such as folding or stretching the clothing, did not affect the performance of the sensors.

Their work is published today in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Analyst.

Wang said the specially designed briefs will also be a big help in easing hospital expenses as the focus on healthcare shifts from centralised hospital based treatment to home-based management. "There are growing needs for developing reliable wearable healthcare monitoring systems," Wang added.

Professor Richard Compton, lecturer in physical and theoretical chemistry at Oxford University, said: "Electrochemical sensors are widely used in niche applications and it is timely for a greater diversity of sensors to emerge, given the sensitivity and low cost of electrochemical measurements. I have full confidence in this idea coming to fruition."

Wang said in the future he hoped to develop enzyme sensors for ethanol and lactate which could be used to monitor alcohol levels in drivers or stress levels in soldiers or athletes.

References

Yang-Li Yang, Analyst, 2010, DOI: 10.1039/b926339j

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