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New Biodegradable Health Sensors Could Revolutionize Health Monitoring Technology

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 06 Mar 2023
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Image: A seaweed second skin could transform health and fitness sensor tech (Photo courtesy of University of Sussex)
Image: A seaweed second skin could transform health and fitness sensor tech (Photo courtesy of University of Sussex)

The gathering of accurate patient information is the backbone of modern healthcare. Through continuous data collection and analysis, healthcare providers can develop a comprehensive understanding of their patients and consequently make better decisions. Wearable technology in healthcare refers to electronic devices that consumers can wear and use to track their personal health and fitness data. Now, the development of new biodegradable health sensors has the potential to revolutionize the way we experience personal healthcare and fitness monitoring technology.

Scientists at the University of Sussex (Brighton, UK) have developed new health sensors that can monitor heart rate and temperature by using natural elements like rock salt, water, seaweed, and graphene. The sensors are fully biodegradable due to their composition of solely natural ingredients, making them a more environmentally friendly alternative to commonly used rubber and plastic-based sensors. Their natural composition also places them in the emerging field of edible electronics- electronic devices safe for consumption. Importantly, the researchers have discovered that their eco-friendly seaweed-based sensors exhibit superior sensitivity compared to existing synthetic hydrogels and nanomaterials, commonly used in wearables for health monitoring. This improved sensitivity can provide higher accuracy in monitoring vital signs.

Seaweed is an effective insulator. However, by mixing a critical amount of graphene with seaweed, scientists managed to develop an electrically conductive film. Upon soaking the film in a salt bath, it quickly absorbs water, leading to the formation of a soft, spongy, and electrically conductive hydrogel. This breakthrough has the potential to revolutionize health monitoring technology, where future applications of clinical-grade wearable sensors can resemble second skin or temporary tattoos - they are lightweight, easy to apply, and safe since they are made with natural ingredients. As a result, this innovation could significantly improve the overall patient experience, circumventing the need for more commonly used invasive hospital instruments, wires, and leads.

“For me, one of the most exciting aspects to this development is that we have a sensor that is both fully biodegradable and highly effective,” said lead scientist Dr. Conor Boland, a physicist at the University of Sussex. “The mass production of unsustainable rubber and plastic based health technology could, ironically, pose a risk to human health through microplastics leeching into water sources as they degrade.”

Related Links:
University of Sussex

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