Experimental health tracker detects how drunk you are

Imagine a future where, after a night out bar-hopping with friends, you can pull out your phone, check out a smartphone app connected to a wireless device stuck to the side of your arm, and find out exactly how much you are hammered. It looks like something you might see in the first few minutes of a black mirror episode, but it could soon become a reality and be of great help to people suffering from certain difficult health conditions.

In a new study published Monday in the journal biomedical engineering from nature, Researchers at the University of California, San Diego have developed a device no bigger than a six-quart battery that detects alcohol, glucose and lactate. As well as letting you know you should take the Uber home from the bar rather than driving, the new wearable also has the potential to help people with diabetes get a more accurate picture of their blood sugar levels.

“It’s like a complete lab on the skin,” Joseph Wang, a biomedical engineer at UC San Diego and co-author of the study, said in a press release. “It is able to continuously measure multiple biomarkers at the same time, allowing users to monitor their health and well-being as they go about their daily activities.”

The disposable microneedle patch detaches from the reusable electronics case.

Nanobioelectronics Laboratory/UC San Diego

Current wearable health sensors for people with diabetes are typically one-trick ponies. They can continuously monitor blood sugar – and do it very well – but nothing else. This information, while clinically useful, does not provide a comprehensive view of the dynamics between blood sugar and high levels of alcohol (which can lower blood sugar) or lactate (which can indicate muscle fatigue). and tissue damage). A device that can take these factors into account can allow a person with diabetes to more accurately manage their health by optimizing physical activity or watching out for too many extra glasses of wine.

“With our wearable, people can see the interaction between their glucose spikes or drops with their diet, exercise, and alcoholic beverage consumption. It could also improve their quality of life,” said Farshad Tehrani, PhD student at UC San Diego and co-first author of the study, in the press release.

The device can be charged on a standard wireless charger.

Nanobioelectronics Laboratory/UC San Diego

Another major drawback of wearable health monitors is their reliance on invasive needle-based sensors. While their coin-sized device has needles, the UC San Diego researchers used disposable micro-needles, which are painless and minimally invasive, measuring about one-fifth the width of a human hair. The needles also contain sensors that sample your body’s interstitial fluid once locked onto the skin. This fluid fills the spaces between cells and is full of biological chemicals like glucose, lactate and alcohol once you have had a drink.

The magic happens when different enzymes inside the microneedles react with these chemicals, generating electrical signals. These signals are then analyzed by additional sensors inside the device before being sent wirelessly to a smartphone app developed by the researchers. When the new wearable was tested by five volunteers as they went about their day eating, drinking and exercising, the data on chemicals collected was comparable to that collected by conventional measurement methods, such as a commercial glucometer or breathalyzer.

“The beauty of this is that it’s a fully integrated system that someone can wear without being tethered to benchtop equipment,” Patrick Mercier, electrical engineer at UC San Diego and co-author of the study, in the press release.

If you’re looking for this one-of-a-kind health tracker, you might have to wait a while to find a commercially viable product. The device, while rechargeable, can currently only run for a few hours at a time. The UC San Diego team also plans to conduct more extensive clinical trials that could test the wearable’s potential for measuring other health-specific chemicals, such as antibiotic levels when treating bacterial infections.

But once fully fleshed out, the researchers see their health tracker as showing promise for a range of people beyond people with diabetes — from athletes looking to improve their physical performance, to doctors monitoring their patients after organ transplants. , and ordinary people at home who like to track their health stats. It’s like a Fitbit on steroids.

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