At the start of 2019 the EU project ELSAH began with the objective of designing a wearable within four years that enables the continuous determination of biomarker concentrations. In an interview, project coordinator, Dr Joerg Schotter, Molecular Diagnostics, Center for Health & Bioresources, AIT Austrian Institute of Technology GmbH, explains the project’s objectives and the potential applications for the planned wearable.
What is the ELSAH project and what are your aims?
The market for wearables, devices that monitor the fitness status of the user in real time, is growing rapidly. These, however, are mainly devices that measure the physiological parameters like heartbeat or oxygen saturation in the blood. These wearables cannot determine molecular biomarkers in biological fluids, which would be important for obtaining a better insight in certain illnesses or health conditions. One problem here is that such an analysis requires direct contact with the user’s biofluids, normally blood. However, blood extraction is an invasive technique that is incompatible with the needs of wearable users.
In order to overcome this obstacle, we want to develop an integrated sensor system that can be worn on the body, the ‘ELSAH patch’. ELSAH stands for “Electronic smart patch system for wireless monitoring of molecular biomarkers for healthcare and well-being”. Our smart patch ought to determine the concentration of molecular biomarkers in the skin, more precisely in the dermal interstitial fluid, in a minimally invasive fashion.
For what fields is the patch intended?
In the first demonstrations of our patch we chose to determine glucose and lactate, which are among the most established biomarkers to support a healthy way of life. Lactate has a similar objective to that of athletic watches already on the market, that is to determine the training condition of the user. Applying the lactate parameter, hyperacidity of the blood can be controlled and, thus, the optimum training range determined. By measuring glucose, on the other hand, we can monitor the nutritional condition of the user. This wearable is supposed to support the user in daily decisions for a healthy way of life, for example if this person wants to maintain a certain diet together with a workout program.
The smart patch opens completely new opportunities for use of wearables for evidence-based applications in the health and lifestyle field. Their use can lead to improved health and increased well-being. In the long-term we expect that they will also lead indirectly to a reduction in the prevalence of diseases of affluence such as obesity, cardio-vascular illnesses, high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes.
At the end of the project period we want to present a demonstrator that is to be evaluated in a limited user group by the German Sport University Cologne both in the laboratory and in a home monitoring setting.
How does the technology function?
Currently a series of wearables have been developed that use non-invasive biofluids such as sweat, saliva or natural eye fluid. These systems often have to deal with specific challenges, such as poorly defined correlations of biomarker concentrations.
Our portable sensor system ought to overcome this problem. The patch comprises a microneedle biosensor, a microchip, printed antennae and a printed battery. The microneedles can be applied and worn painlessly. A ‘patch applicator”, a kind of spring, assures that the patch lies properly on the skin ad assures that the microneedles are properly placed. The electronics in the patch functions autonomously and measures independently, and the data is transmitted wirelessly to the appropriate user app.
The patch makes wireless transmission of collected data to the user’s app possible and, thus, permits real time measurement of both biomarkers. At present, we plan a measurement duration of 24 hours per patch.
Who is involved in the project?
The project consortium comprises ten partners from five European countries. The measurement of biomarkers in the skin using microneedle biosensors has previously been demonstrated by Tony Cass, Professor of Chemical Biology at the Department of Chemistry and Institute of Biomedical Engineering at Imperial College London. Cass has already shown that glucose in the interstitial fluids of the skin is measurable by microneedle bisoensors and that there is a correlation to the concentrations measured in blood. Along with Imperial College London, the German Sport University Cologne and AIT, also the research institutes Centro Technológico LEITAT (printing of antennae) and Tyndall National Institute (fabrication of microneedles) are involved.
Our partners from the industry are DirectSens GmbH (development of enzymes for the biosensors), LykonDX GmbH (app development and exploitation), Saralon GmbH (printing of batteries) as well as Infineon Technologies Austria AG (microchip manufacturing). Sanmina Ireland Unlimited Company is the partner that takes to the overall integration of the patch. Sanmina will also develop the applicator that enables controlled application of the patch to the skin.
Find more information at the project website: http://www.elsah.researchproject.at/
Interview: Sascha Keutel