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Patching Patients Featured Pattern: P1173 February 2018

Author: Lucy Young (Send us feedback.)

Developments in wearable patches for use in a range of health-care applications are ramping up.

Abstracts in this Pattern:

A number of research groups have made advances in wearable patches that could find use in health care. Temporary-tattoo-like wearable patches are popular patient-monitoring tools because they are often inexpensive, discreet, disposable, and nonintrusive. Scientists from the University of Tokyo (Tokyo, Japan) and other institutions have developed and tested a soft, flexible, temporary-tattoo-style gold-nanomesh sensor patch that a person can wear comfortably for up to a week for medical and athletic applications. A trial in which multiple subjects wore a sensor patch for a week showed that the patch held up mechanically to repeated bending and stretching and was able to measure electrical activity from the wearers' muscles.

Smart wearable patches capable of administering medication are also under development. For example, researchers from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (Lincoln, Nebraska), Harvard Medical School (Harvard University; Cambridge, Massachusetts), and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, Massachusetts) have created a smart bandage that comprises "electrically conductive fibers coated in a gel that can be individually loaded with infection-fighting antibiotics, tissue-regenerating growth factors, painkillers or other medications." A person can use a smartphone or other wireless device to trigger a tiny microcontroller in the bandage to send voltage through a specific gel-coated fiber, which heats the gel and releases whatever drug it contains. The researchers see treating the chronic skin wounds that diabetic patients sometimes experience as an initial use for the smart bandage.

Scientists at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, Michigan) have developed a technology capable of printing very precise doses of medication onto a range of surfaces. Furthermore, the technology can print several medications into a single dose on dosing devices such as dissolvable strips and microneedle patches, making medication compliance easier for patients who take multiple medications. Researchers are also developing microneedle patches that can help burn fat. Scientists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, North Carolina) and other institutions have created a wearable patch that deposits drug-carrying nanoparticles under the skin. The drug the patch deposits "can turn energy-storing white fat into energy-burning brown fat locally while raising the body's overall metabolism."