Engineers at the University of California San Diego’s Center for Wearable Sensors have developed a flexible wearable that can monitor both biochemical and electrical signals of the wearer.

Referred to as the Chem-Phys patch, the wearable can record electrocardiogram (EKG) heart signals and track levels of lactate, a biochemical that is a marker of physical effort, all in in real-time. This is a step up from other commercial wearables that can only measure one signal, such as steps or heart rate.

The Chem-Phys patch, which can be applied directly to the patient’s skin, consists of a thin, flexible polyester sheet and an electrode to sense lactate and two EKG electrodes bracketing it to the left and the right of it. The sensors are connected to a small custom printed circuit board equipped with a microcontroller and a Bluetooth Low Energy chip.

The wearable can transmit the data from biochemical and electrical signals either wirelessly or via Bluetooth to a smartphone, smart watch or laptop.

The developers believe their Chem-Phys patch could have a wide range of applications, from athletes monitoring their workouts to physicians monitoring patients with heart disease.

“One of the overarching goals of our research is to build a wearable tricorder-like device that can measure simultaneously a whole suite of chemical, physical and electrophysiological signals continuously throughout the day,” said Electrical Engineering Professor at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, Patrick Mercier, who co-led the project.

“This research represents an important first step to show this may be possible,” continued Mercier.

In the future the engineers plan to further develop the wearable by adding sensors for other chemical markers, such as magnesium and potassium, as well as other vital signs.

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