Sticky Situation: New Nanomesh for Wearables is Safer, Comfortable, Researchers Say

Japanese researchers have developed a nanomesh for wearable health monitoring that they say can be worn for a week without discomfort.

Continuous health monitoring without the discomfort caused by adhesives is now a reality, a group of Japanese researchers say. The team has developed a skin-friendly nanomesh structure that can be worn for up to a week without discomfort. The scientists say the nanomesh allows skin to breathe, avoiding inflammation.

The data-gathering ability of wearables is undeniable. But to obtain that data, end users must consistently wear the devices. Adhesion is the primary obstacle to adherence in a monitoring regimen, the researchers say. In addition to discomfort, previous iterations of on-skin devices were not breathable, posing a safety risk to humans.

“We learned that devices that can be worn for a week or longer for continues monitoring were needed for practical use in medical and sports applications,” researcher Takao Someyea said in a news release about the findings.

The University of Tokyo scientists say in their recent Nature Nanotechnoloy study that their stretchable sensors are minimally invasive and cause little discomfort. This breakthrough, they say, will lead to more insights about how the human body operates on a day-to-day basis. They attribute their success to developing a material that can conform to the contours of the human body while remaining attached and permeable.

The researchers created an electrode consisting of nanoscale meshes. The meshes have several components: a gold layer, polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), and a water-soluble polymer. These materials are considered safe for use on human skin. Getting the nanomesh to stick is simple: a small spritz of water and the PVA nanofibers dissolve, adhering to the skin. The nanofibers are also key to the mesh’s breathability. The researchers describe them as “sparsely overlapping and spaghetti-like.” This porous structure allows skin to breathe.

Researchers then assessed the safety of the nanomesh with a skin patch test. The team worked with a dermatologist to evaluate 20 test subjects over the course of the week. The dermatologist compared the subjects’ skin before and after application, and found few negative effects. Researchers also asked participants to report on their level of comfort while wearing the nanomesh on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 representing no discomfort. The nanomesh earned an average rating of 1.16.

In addition to being comfortable, researchers say their nanomesh is also durable. They attached it to a forefinger, then bent and stretched it by opening and closing the finger. The material held up after more than 10,000 repetitions.

“Our approach has opened up a new possibility for the integration of thin-film electronic devices with skin for systematic, continuous, long-term health monitoring,” the researchers concluded.

For a more in depth discussion on how wearables will impact the future of healthcare, listen in to HRA's webinar "Patient Centricity: Role of Wearable Technology in Patients with Chronic Conditions."

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