From ultra-thin sensors that monitor body functions to lab-on-a-chip for quick tests at the patient’s bedside: Printed electronic components expand the possibilities of medical diagnostics. LOPEC, the leading International Exhibition and Conference for the Printed Electronics Industry in Munich, will provide information about new developments in that area from March 19 to 21, 2019.
Healthcare spending is increasing from year to year. More cost-effective and at the same time faster diagnostics could save a lot of money, because the earlier health problems are identified, the greater the chance of recovery and the lower the cost of treatment. LOPEC 2019 will therefore focus on medical applications of printed electronics: It will provide information on diagnostics chips for a fast and meaningful on-site analysis as well as on printed sensors that monitor health parameters—whether of athletes, elderly persons or patients in hospital beds. “As patient diagnostics and care becomes more decentralized, printed electronics becomes an enabling technology due to the rapid advancement of materials and printing technology,” says Dr. Kerry Adams, Market Segment Manager at DuPont Advanced Materials in the UK. Dr. Adams will chair the session “Biomedical applications”.
Diagnostics in mini-format
A lab-on-a-chip consists of a structured plastic or glass substrate with fine channels, tiny reaction chambers, detectors and other elements. Because of this complex structure, the chips cover another diagnostic field and are more sensitive than test strips used for drug or pregnancy tests, for example.
The first microfluidics chips of this kind were produced in the 1990s from silicon and glass under clean room conditions using elaborate and expensive photolithography. With printing processes such as 3D inkjet technology, the fine chip structures—the channels and chambers as well as the electronic components—can be produced more cost-effectively and without additional assembly steps in the future. A combination of printed electronics and conventional techniques of plastics processing is also possible: Here, the chip with the fine channels and other microfluidic structures is produced using injection molding or embossing techniques. Then the conductor paths, light-emitting diodes and other electronic elements are printed onto the chip.
The stands of the LOPEC exhibitors clearly show how versatile printed electronics can be in medical applications. The Heidelberg-based company InnovationLab, for example, already presented its prototype for the OccluSense system at LOPEC 2017. Meanwhile, the diagnostic tool for dentists that revolutionizes chewing pressure control is already in production and available on the market. Instead of a specially colored paper, the patient bites on a foil with integrated sensors that measure pressure conditions at over 250 pressure levels. A mobile hand-held device records the data and transmits it to an app. LOPEC exhibitor Brewer Science, on the other hand, has developed a humidity sensor for monitoring breathing. Numerous other bodily functions from temperature to oxygen saturation of the blood can also be monitored with printed sensors.
Printed electronics have already established themselves in many areas of medicine and diagnostics. However, their potential is far from exhausted. Analysts from consulting company Mordor Intelligence predict that by 2023, printed electronics in the healthcare market will grow by almost 25 percent. Jaye Tyler of Nissha Si-Cal emphasizes that one of the challenges in the commercialization of printed electronics is for the various players in the development and manufacturing process to work together. LOPEC makes a significant contribution here, because with its combination of leading international exhibition and accompanying conference, it connects company representatives and scientists from all over the world—across all sectors and stages of the value chain from research to the marketing of the end product.