A new ‘electronic skin’ pioneered by MIT engineers and researchers in South Korea could lead to the development of wearable monitors that can track skin cancer.

The sweat-proof ‘electronic skin’ is a sticky patch with sensors that attaches to the body and functions even if a user begins perspiring. The breakthrough patch has a smart design that makes it like human skin and allows sweat to escape without damaging the sensors. This is made possible by its patterned artificial sweat ducts – like human pores, which perforate it in a kirigami-like pattern to ensure moisture is released.

“Sweat can accumulate between the e-skin and your skin, which could cause skin damage and sensor malfunctioning,” said Jeehwan Kim, associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. “So we tried to address these two problems at the same time, by allowing sweat to permeate through electronic skin.”

This is crucial if the patch is to be able to conduct long-term monitoring of health.

“With this conformable, breathable skin patch, there won’t be any sweat accumulation, wrong information, or detachment from the skin,” added Kim. “We can provide wearable sensors that can do constant long-term monitoring.”

In tests the e-skin was stuck to a volunteer’s wrist and forehead for one week. During this time it ‘measured his temperature, hydration levels, UV exposure, and pulse, even during sweat-inducing activities, such as running on a treadmill for 30 minutes and consuming a spicy meal’. It continued to do its job even when the volunteer was asked to frown and sweat profusely.

The next step for Kim and the team is to further enhance the ‘design’s strength and durability’.

“Because the e-skin is very soft, it can be physically damaged,” added Hanwool Yeon, lead author and MIT postdoc. “We aim to improve the resilience of electronic skin.”

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