A wrist-worn sensor could detect levels of various electrolytes instantaneously, alert athletes to rehydrate, or could even deliver electrolytes on-demand.
The body’s electrolyte levels must always be normal to keep a normal heart rhythm, maintain cellular processes, and prevent muscles from cramping especially during extreme conditions.
Athletes, fitness freaks, soldiers and emergency responders could benefit from a device that could measure electrolytes on the spot to help them maintain peak levels of performance.
Patients at home or ordinary citizens could use such a device to quickly determine if their electrolytes are low without going to a clinic or lab.
Conventional methods of measuring electrolytes involve drawing blood from a vein and sending the sample to a lab for analysis - a costly and time-consuming process. Before it even comes that, many people already suffer from bouts of dizziness, extreme thirst, weakness and palpitations - tell-tale signs of dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.
Researchers are finding ways to perform diagnostics in quicker and less invasive ways so that early intervention could prevent complications.
At Sandia Laboratories in New Mexico, scientists have invented a prototype wearable device that could detect different levels of electrolytes on the spot, and even replenish them before you even reach for that glass of water or bottle of Gatorade.
The tiny device sensor can fit in a palm or worn on a wrist, and uses microneedles to take minute samples of fluids between the cells found underneath the skin. The microneedles are so small that they do not traumatize the skin, the researchers claim.
“We're proposing a minimally invasive way to move away from centralized laboratory testing,”
Researcher and study co-author Ronen Polsky (pictured) said in a press release.
“We want to make the device wearable, noninvasive, and with real-time readout to constantly measure things a doctor might normally order for laboratory tests,”
Added research team member and North Carolina State University graduate student Phil Miller.
According to their study published this month in Advanced Healthcare Materials, laser-made microneedles measuring just 800 millionths of a meter (microns) in height are:
“integrated into a microfluidic chip for detecting potassium using a solid state ion selective electrode transducer.”
Small amounts of potassium passed seamlessly through the microneedles and into the fluidic cartridge with nine gold disk electrodes pre-programmed to measure only potassium molecules.
The researchers said the device can be tweaked to measure other electrolytes such as sodium, magnesium or calcium.
Polsky and his colleagues said their prototype could evolve into a device that could sense and respond simultaneously, with some microneedles reading electrolyte levels while other microneedles deliver certain electrolytes when these are low.
“Development of this bench top device into a handheld model for consumers and patients will be a true partnership between a clinician and an engineer,”
Said Dr. Justin Baca of the University of New Mexico (UNM) physician.
“Sometimes sensor technologies work well, but problems arise when they are adapted to living systems. We're trying to get at this problem from the beginning to develop the best needle geometry.”
Baca would lead the human trial phase for the device, which had drawn interest from investors at this early stage of development, according to the researchers. Microfluidic devices like this one have shown much promise in the noninvasive and point-of-care detection of many conditions such as asthma and cancer.
“This is the future of personalized health care,”
“These wearable technologies are just starting to come out in different forms. It's inevitable that people will go there.”