MIT has reinvented the plaster, or Band Aid, or whatever you call it.
Its new stretchy, sticky hydrogel contains electronics including temperature sensors, LED lights and tiny, drug-delivering reservoirs.
This is how the system works: when the sensors detect changes in skin temperature, the stick-on then delivers drugs, releasing medicine into the body. Then when the device's medicine stock is running low, the LEDs can be set to light up as an alert. The functions will still work when stretched and deformed across a knee or an elbow.
The smart dressing could be used as a stretchy, stick-on treatment for burns and other skin conditions where temperature is a factor. It can attach to surfaces like silicon, aluminium and gold as well as the skin.
"If you want to put electronics in close contact with the human body for applications such as health care monitoring and drug delivery, it is highly desirable to make the electronic devices soft and stretchable to fit the environment of the human body," said Xuanhe Zhao, associate professor in MIT's department of mechanical engineering, who developed the hydrogel. "Electronics are usually hard and dry, but the human body is soft and wet."
The MIT team says that electronics embedded in hydrogels could be used not just on the surface of the skin, but also inside the body. So this system would be an embeddable piece of health monitoring tech that wouldn't be rejected by the body's immune system. So, an implanted glucose sensor, for example, or even a neural probe. Very futuristic stuff.
Read this: Implantables - would you go that far?
"The brain is a bowl of Jell-O," said Zhao. "Currently, researchers are trying different soft materials to achieve long-term biocompatibility of neural devices. With collaborators, we are proposing to use robust hydrogel as an ideal material for neural devices, because the hydrogel can be designed to possess similar mechanical and physiological properties as the brain."
We've seen a few instances of stick-on wearables before. AmpStrip cancelled its Indiegogo campaign based around fitness monitoring to move into the health tech space with a medical device. And earlier this year, a disposable Bluetooth smart plaster was used to remotely monitor Ebola patients in West Africa.