Tattoo-like devices for wireless pregnancy monitoring

May 9, 2012
A tiny tattoo-like electronic device could someday provide wireless pregnancy monitoring of maternal and fetal vital signs, giving expectant mother's more mobility and improving access to prenatal care in remote areas. Noting that mobile phone usage is often high even in areas with limited health care, professor Todd Coleman said the device could transmit bodily signals to a mobile phone, securely connecting the patient to a doctor thousands of miles away. Credit: Photo courtesy of Bioengineering Professor Todd Coleman, UC San Diego Jacobs Shool of Engineering.

The University of California, San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering announced today that it is a Grand Challenges Explorations winner, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Bioengineering Professor Todd Coleman, in collaboration with Materials Science and Engineering Professor John A. Rogers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will pursue an innovative global health and development research project, titled "Epidermal Electronics for Continuous Pregnancy Monitoring."

Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges. Coleman's project is one of over 100 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 8 grants announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

"Grand Challenges Explorations encourages individuals worldwide to expand the pipeline of ideas where creative, unorthodox thinking is most urgently needed," said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "We're excited to provide additional funding for select grantees so that they can continue to advance their idea towards global impact."

To receive funding, Coleman and Rogers along with other Grand Challenges Explorations Round 8 winners demonstrated in a two-page online application a bold idea in one of five critical global heath and development topic areas that included agriculture development, immunization and nutrition. Applications for the current open round, Explorations Round 9, will be accepted through May 15, 2012.

Coleman's project will advance the epidemiology of pre-term birth by using flexible tattoo-like devices to continuously monitor uterine contractions, fetal heart rate and oxygen, and maternal heart rate and body temperature. In addition, their technology has the potential to enable non-invasive, wireless and continuous pregnancy monitoring of at-risk patients. The project uses a skin-mounted electronics system developed in collaboration with Rogers at the University of Illinois. The wearable patch of tiny circuits, sensors, and wireless transmitters sticks to the skin like a temporary tattoo, stretching and flexing with the skin while maintaining high performance. This approach builds upon a class of flexible electronics technologies that Rogers has pioneered.

"These systems provide fundamentally new and powerful ways to integrate electronics with the skin, in a manner that blurs the distinction between the two. The ideas are sufficiently simple that they open up new, exciting opportunities to address, cost effectively, important problems in global health," said Rogers.

In the first phase of the project, Coleman and Rogers will partner with Dr. Gladys Ramos and her colleagues from the Department of Reproductive Medicine, UC San Diego Health System, to monitor patients in labor and determine how well the device's sensors perform compared to standard clinical technology.

"Our goal is that we will accurately be able to detect the signs and symptoms of preterm labor in a reliable and non-invasive manner," said Ramos.

Coleman's lab at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering is extending the robustness and capabilities of these devices to match relevant clinical applications, while maintaining accuracy and sensitivity. For example, Coleman is using his expertise in signal processing and neuroscience to design novel sensors and wireless radios that can effectively acquire, process, and transmit bodily signals during natural skin deformations.

"We see this as a compelling opportunity to move these prototypes from the bench top to the bedside, where our capabilities uniquely match an unmet need," said Coleman. "First, the form factor and accuracy of our device will uniquely be able to monitor the pregnant mother in a multi-modal, continuous, and most importantly, unobtrusive manner. Secondly, there is tremendous potential for developing countries, where healthcare access is limited but mobile phone usage is high. Our goal is for the electronic tattoo to transmit bodily signals to the mobile phone, which then uploads to the cloud, so that a doctor thousands of miles away can securely access the information and provide clinically actionable advice. We envision the phrase, 'Take two of these and call me in the morning,' being replaced with, 'Wear this tattoo and I'll call you when there's a problem,'" said Coleman.

MC10, the leader in commercializing thin, conformal, epidermal electronics systems, will work closely with Coleman, Rogers, and their partners to speedily develop, test, and deploy this revolutionary approach to advancing the quality of pregnancy monitoring in underserved populations.

Explore further: Grant funds feasibility study of microneedle patches for polio vaccination

Related Stories

Grant funds feasibility study of microneedle patches for polio vaccination

November 7, 2011
The Georgia Institute of Technology will receive funding through Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative created by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that enables researchers worldwide to test unorthodox ideas that ...

Smart skin: Electronics that stick and stretch like a temporary tattoo (w/ video)

August 11, 2011
Engineers have developed a device platform that combines electronic components for sensing, medical diagnostics, communications and human-machine interfaces, all on an ultrathin skin-like patch that mounts directly onto the ...

Smelly socks could be a key to preventing malaria deaths in the developing world

July 13, 2011
Grand Challenges Canada announces a grant today to support further development of a new innovative device to attract and kill mosquitoes that can transmit malaria.

Recommended for you

After a half-century of attempts, psilocybin has finally been synthesized in the lab

August 16, 2017
A team of researchers at Friedrich Schiller University Jena has figured how out to make psilocybin, the chemical responsible for creating hallucinations in people who consume the mushrooms that produce it naturally. In their ...

Using barcodes to trace cell development

August 16, 2017
How do the multiple different cell types in the blood develop? Scientists have been pursuing this question for a long time. According to the classical model, different developmental lines branch out like in a tree. The tree ...

The unexpected role of a well-known gene in creating blood

August 16, 2017
One of the first organ systems to form and function in the embryo is the cardiovascular system: in fact, this developmental process starts so early that scientists still have many unresolved questions on the origin of the ...

Researchers unlock clues to how cells move through the body

August 16, 2017
During its 120-day cycle the circulatory system transports red blood cells and nutrients throughout the human body. This system helps keep the body in balance and fight against infections and diseases by filtering old or ...

Eating habits affect skin's protection against sun

August 15, 2017
Sunbathers may want to avoid midnight snacks before catching some rays.

Chewing gum rapid test for inflammation

August 15, 2017
Dental implants occasionally entail complications. Six to 15 percent of patients develop an inflammatory response in the years after receiving a dental implant. This is caused by bacteria destroying the soft tissue and the ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.