Researchers from UCLA and Stanford University have developed a safe, non-invasive, one-touch technology that uses hydrogel-coated chemical sensors and a signal interpretation framework that can present detailed information about a person’s blood composition – such as metabolites, hormones, nutrients and drugs, and blood oxygen – all at the touch of a finger.
The first system of its kind builds up previous skin sensor technologies developed by the researchers, and a paper describes The new technology was recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).
One potential application of the technology is to embed the sensors in the steering wheels of keyless cars to measure blood levels of alcohol and drugs. This can help prevent driving under the influence (DUI) of drugs or alcohol, which can affect a driver’s ability to drive a vehicle safely.
“This touch-based technology can serve as a human-machine interface to sense and interpret the inside of a person’s body,” said study leader and lead author Sam Emaminejad, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at UCLA’s Samueli School of Engineering. “It provides much richer information about our health than current touch-based biosensors like pulse oximeters.”
The system, described by the researchers as a “bio-human-machine cryptographic interface” or CB-HMI, uses thin hydrogel-coated chemical sensors to collect and detect specific circulating molecules on the skin through natural perspiration. CB-HMI also records heart rate and blood oxygen levels.
“This combines the familiarity of a fingerprint scan, such as that used to unlock some smartphone models, with our advances in non-invasive diagnostics, which can detect trace molecules circulating in our bodies that have traditionally been collected in samples of blood, saliva and other fluids. said Emaminejad, who is also a member of the California NanoSystems Institute. “Importantly, it can also encrypt the data at the point of collection, using the person’s unique fingerprint as a key, so the data captured remains secure and private.”
“This touch-based technology can serve as a human-machine interface to perceive and interpret what’s inside a person’s body,” said Sam Emaminejad.
For their experiments, the researchers developed thin, hydrogel-coated sensors to measure the ethanol and paracetamol levels in the participants. They integrated these sensors with other biosensors and a fingerprint scanner, and developed accompanying algorithms to decode the information.
“The system authenticated the user before proceeding to the next steps,” said lead author Shuyu Lin, a UCLA graduate student and Emaminejad member Interconnected and Integrated Bioelectronics Lab (I²BL). “We also applied our interface to develop a smart drug dispenser that only dispenses the appropriate amount of paracetamol based on current blood levels.”
The researchers envision that such interfaces could be extended and applied to create ‘smart’ environments that adapt to the needs of individuals. In addition to integrating the system into heavy machinery to ensure its operators are authorized and physically fit to operate the machinery, the researchers said the technology could also be used to monitor patients remotely. When connected to a laptop or tablet, the system can provide detailed real-time physiological information from a patient to a doctor during a video visit.
The other main authors of the article published by PNAS are Emaminejad’s graduate students and lab members Jialun Zhu and Wenzhuo Yu. Other UCLA authors from his lab include Bo Wang, Kiarash Sabet, Yichao Zhao, Xuanbing Cheng, Hannaneh Hojaiji, Haisong Lin, and Jiawei Tan. The other senior authors are Dr. Carlos Milla, Professor of Pediatrics at Stanford Medical School; and Ronald Davis, Professor of Biochemistry and Genetics at Stanford University and Director of the Stanford Genome Technology Center.
The research is funded by the National Science Foundation’s Smart and Connected Health program, Precise Advanced Technologies and Health Systems for Underserved Populations (PATHS-UP), the PhRMA Foundation, the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, and a UCLA Electrical and Computer Engineering Preliminary Examination Fellowship supported for Shuyu Lin. The UCLA Technology Development Group has applied for a US provisional patent on the technology for Emaminejad and the three lead authors.