An Electronic Patch to Simplify Treatment
Imagine that you get up one morning and don’t have to take a pill or count the hours until the next dose! Imagine that the medication is delivered precisely and directly to your body according to your body’s actual state of need. Such a delivery technique could smooth out all the peaks and valleys and keep PARKINSON’S DISEASE under control and your life running smoothly. This dream is close, very close, to becoming a reality.
An international collaboration of scientists is working hard to make this dream a reality. The first step was idea of John Rogers, a materials scientist at the University of Illinois. He developed a membrane so thin that it could be combined with nano scale electronic semiconductors. Thus, the idea of “epidermal electronics” as a patch that could monitor various vital signs through the skin.
A Korean study in a lab at Seoul National University, headed by Dae-Hyeong Kim who is assistant professor in chemical and biological engineering also developed a thin patch that could monitor subtle tremors and release medication stored in nanoparticles and at the same time record all the data for retrieval later. The work of the Korean Lab collaborated with a new company, called MC10, in Cambridge, MA that has been set up specifically to advance the concept of “stretchable electronics” that will further the development of the epidermal electronic patch. Rogers is a co-founder of this company along with Roozbeh Ghaffari.
In a paper recently published in Nature Nanotechnology, the researchers describe a device that is thin as a temporary tattoo making it virtually unnoticeable and as flexible as a stretchy band-aid. This device will be composed of multiple layers of ultra thin membranes embedded with nanoscale sensors that can distinguish and measure the tremors of PARKINSON’S DISEASE from ordinary movements. It will also measure other vital signs, such as blood oxygen, temperature, and heart rate and store that data in a memory. Ultimately, the data will be able to be down loaded to a smart phone or streamed directly to other communication devices, but that technology is still under development. The patch could also contain unique medication delivery system where the medication is directly released into the skin as needed based on the data from the other systems.
This device is still in prototype form, and testing in humans is still a few years off. It will take time to perfect the technology and obtain the necessary regulatory approvals. While this group is currently targeting movement disorders such as PARKINSON’S DISEASE, other applications for this product could successfully treat diabetes or migraine headaches. Drug delivery via a patch on the skin is not new. What makes this research exciting is the addition of elements to monitor vitals and store or transmit that data while at the same time providing a controlled release of medication. Mr. Ghaffari points out that this device can “take the epidermal electronics and couple it with memory on board and therapy. You can close the loop from diagnosis to therapy on a single patch.”
Multifunctional wearable devices for diagnosis and therapy of movement disorders: Dae-Hyeong Kim, et al; Natur Nanotechnology (2014) doi:10.1038/nnano.2014.3
A Bandage That Senses Tremors, Delivers Drugs, and Keeps a Record; David Talbot; MIT Technology Review; April 1, 2014
Review by Marcia McCall