Smart clothes that monitor your health

Laura Mappas
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Smart clothes. Image: Getty

Researchers have designed new smart textiles that can monitor your health, detect when you're unwell, and even contact your doctor!

Smart sensors
Imagine a shirt that can protect you from heart disease or a dress that sends you a text message telling you to take it easy when your vital signs go into the danger zone — imagine no more. European project BIOTEX has created just that. Clothes that monitor your body temperature and track your heart activity are already on the market but the European project BIOTEX goes one step further, using miniaturised sensors to analyse body fluids such as sweat. Even one tiny drop of sweat can provide an accurate assessment of someone's health and therefore is ''one of the most obvious applications for smart fabrics is in the medical field'', according to Jean Luprano, a researcher at the Swiss Centre for Electronics and Microtechnology (SCEM) who also coordinates the BIOTEX project.

How it works
The fabric is embedded with a number of sensors whose job it is to constantly monitor your vital signs. As soon as danger signs are detected, the garment is programmed to contact your doctor, and even to send you a text message telling you to take it easy.

''The patch [of sensors] is a sensing and processing unit, adaptable to target different body fluids and biochemical species,'' says Luprano. This means the biosensors can go to work measuring sodium, potassium and chloride in sweat, while another probe measures the conductivity of sweat and a miniature pH sensor uses colour changes to indicate the acidity of the sweat. On top of this, an immunosensor, which could possibly be used for wound dressing and bandages, is able to detect the presence of specific proteins and the BIOTEX oxygen probe measures levels of oxygen saturation in the blood around the thorax.

The future looks smart
Luprano admits that while more research need to be done to explore the links between the indicators and the actual health conditions, BIOTEX does now make remote monitoring of an individual's health possible. Whether these new advances are accepted by healthcare providers is another thing. ''It's new and healthcare providers are not used to it,'' says Luprano. ''We are not used to the information that continuous remote monitoring can provide, it's so different to laboratory tests that are usually taken.''

That said, Luprano is optimistic, believing that in the long run smart textiles will play a major role in the way we approach and treat some health disorders. At the very least, smart fabrics could be used to provide biochemical information, complementing the body temperature and heart activity textile products that are already on the market.

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