Engineers from the University of California, San Diego have developed a small wearable tattoo that can detect alcohol levels in perspiration and then transmit the information to a mobile device to inform the user.

The engineers, who are funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), designed the device as a solution to help reduce unsafe alcohol consumption, which can lead to drunken driving, violence and healthcare issues related to heavy drinking.

According to the engineers, the new wearable tattoo is non-invasive and can be easily hidden from view, which could make it more attractive to individuals to wear and thereby could help them self-monitor their alcohol intake and avoid driving if they have had too much to drink.

“The wearable resembles a temporary tattoo, but is actually a biosensor patch that is embedded with several flexible wireless components,” said Director of the NIBIB Program in Tissue Chips, Seila Selimovic, PhD.

“One component releases a chemical that stimulates perspiration on the skin below the patch. Another component senses changes in the electrical current flowing through the generated sweat, which measures alcohol levels and sends them to the user’s cell phone,” continued Selimovic.

“Measuring alcohol in sweat has been attempted before, but those technologies took two to three hours to measure alcohol levels,” said Patrick Mercier, PhD at UCSD’s Jacobs School of Engineering and co-senior author of the study, which was reported in the July issue of the journal ACS Sensors.

“Our patch sends alcohol levels to your smartphone in just eight minutes, making real-time alcohol monitoring possible, practical and personal,” continued Mercier.

The engineers’ work was supported by the National Institutes of Health through the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering grant # EB019698. Additional funding was provided by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the UCSD Center of Wearable Sensors, and the Thai Development and Promotion of Science and Technology Talents.

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