A new wristband with a wireless connection to smartphones could offer a better way to monitor personal health and environmental exposure.

The researchers describe the technology, which companies that make watches and other wearable devices to monitor heart rates and physical activity could incorporate into their products, in the journal Microsystems & Nanoengineering.

“It’s like a Fitbit but has a biosensor that can count particles, so that includes blood cells, bacteria, and organic or inorganic particles in the air,” says senior author Mehdi Javanmard, assistant professor in the electrical and computer engineering department in the School of Engineering at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

“Current wearables can measure only a handful of physical parameters such as heart rate and exercise activity,” says lead author Abbas Furniturewalla, a former undergraduate researcher in the electrical and computer engineering department.

“The ability for a wearable device to monitor the counts of different cells in our bloodstream would take personal health monitoring to the next level.”

The plastic wristband includes a flexible circuit board and a biosensor with a channel, or pipe, thinner than the diameter of a human hair with gold electrodes embedded inside. It has a circuit to process electrical signals, a micro-controller for digitizing data, and a Bluetooth module to transmit data wirelessly.

Pinpricks can obtain blood samples, which then go through the channel to have the device count the blood cells. The data are sent wirelessly to an Android smartphone with an app that processes and displays data. The technology can also work in iPhones or any other smartphone.

In the field, offices, and hospitals, health professionals could get rapid blood test results from patients, without the need for expensive, bulky lab-based equipment. Blood cell counts can be used to diagnose illness; low red blood cell counts, for instance, can be indicative of internal bleeding and other conditions.

“There’s a whole range of diseases where blood cell counts are very important,” Javanmard says. “Abnormally high or low white blood cell counts are indicators of certain cancers like leukemia, for example.”

Next-generation wristbands could be used in a variety of biomedical and environmental applications, he says. Patients would be able to continuously monitor their health and send results to physicians remotely.

“This would be really important for settings with lots of air pollutants and people want to measure the amount of tiny particles or dust they’re exposed to day in and day out,” Javanmard says. “Miners, for example, could sample the environment they’re in.”

Source: Rutgers University