I think I stand with the majority of the population when I say that I do not like needles. Blood work, as I’m sure you can imagine, is not really my cup of tea. As I sit there in that dreadfully uninviting chair with a rubber tourniquet tied way-too-tightly-for-comfort around my upper arm, I find myself wishing there was a less invasive alternative, ideally one that doesn’t leave me with a puncture wound. Well, luckily for me and any other sane individual who shares my distaste for needles, the future looks bright. Sweat has historically been overlooked as a biosensing platform despite carrying many of the same biomarkers, chemicals, and solutes that are carried in blood. This stems from a variety of different complications associated with sweat sensing that simply don’t exist for blood tests, and these complications have been enough to prevent any significant progress in the field for a long time. It was not until a group of scientists from the University of Cincinnati were issued an intriguing patent on January 22nd of this year that the field of sweat sensing technology began to see hope.
Now all of that is a bit dramatic, but let’s be real. How many of you would have kept reading if I started off with “Devices for integrated, repeated, prolonged, and/or reliable sweat stimulation and biosensing” (the official name for the patent in question)? I’m sure sweat stimulation isn’t something you planned on spending a great deal of time thinking about today, but you’re here now and boy let me tell you, this is exciting stuff. US patent number 10182795 could have some major implications in the near future across multiple facets of life. Inventors Jason Heikenfeld and Zachary Cole, working out of the assignee of the patent, the University of Cincinnati, have put forth some novel approaches to addressing the complications associated with sweat biosensing, specifically the inability to consistently gather enough sweat from one area for testing, skin irritation, and the contamination of sweat samples from chemicals used to stimulate sweating, like pilocarpine. Their patent, filed on October 17, 2014 and classified under CPC A61B 5/1491 (using means for promoting sweat production), among other classifications, describes a medical technology that has potential for a wide-ranging impact, and the many claims they make (13 to be exact) sound promising.
So let’s talk about the invention. At its core, it’s a method of sweat stimulation and sampling through device-skin interface that could be deployed through a variety of different mediums, including patches, bands, straps, clothing, wearables, etc. Utilizing multiple sweat stimulation pads controlled by a timing circuit capable of selectively activating/deactivating individual pads, this technology is able to rotate through the pads over time. This prevents skin irritation caused by the single-pad, continuous sweat stimulation that has been used in this design’s predecessors, and also allows more consistent sweat collection due to the rotation between fresh sweat stores. One commonality between this design and previous sweat sensors is the method of sweat stimulation, but even within that apparent commonality there are improvements that have been made. While this design still plans to use a molecular method of drawing sweat out of the skin, like pilocarpine, it also includes a filtration component, or membrane, to ensure purity of the sweat sample collected. Once collected, the sample is pumped to a sensor by a microfluidic component to analyze the concentration of the analyte of interest for that sensor. The design can be seen in better detail below.
The inventors claim that this device will collect and analyze sweat over extended periods of time through the components and methods described above. If that is in fact true, this technology could soon be in use everywhere. From athletes seeking to maximize their body’s performance to nurses caring for neonates to patients undergoing pharmacological monitoring, this technology could be a real breakthrough in systemic biomarker detection. Why bother with a needle when you can get the same information by slapping a patch on your arm? This patent has the potential to render most blood tests for analytes present in sweat obsolete. There is likely still a long road ahead before it reaches the market, and it may very well end up like the vast majority of US patents that never make it there. But I know I’ll be on the lookout for clinical trials over the next 5-10 years. I hope you will too.
Heikenfeld, Jason C., Sonner, Zachary Cole. (2019). United States Patent No. 10182795B2. Retrieved from http://pdfpiw.uspto.gov/.piw?PageNum=0&docid=10182795&IDKey=263AB8D65766%0D%0A&HomeUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fpatft.uspto.gov%2Fnetacgi%2Fnph-Parser%3FSect1%3DPTO2%2526Sect2%3DHITOFF%2526p%3D1%2526u%3D%25252Fnetahtml%25252FPTO%25252Fsearch-bool.html%2526r%3D3%2526f%3DG%2526l%3D50%2526co1%3DAND%2526d%3DPTXT%2526s1%3Deccrine%2526s2%3Dsensor%2526OS%3Deccrine%252BAND%252Bsensor%2526RS%3Deccrine%252BAND%252Bsensor