University of the West of England (UWE) Bristol researchers at the Centre for Print Research (CFPR) have successfully developed a prototype of a simple piece of fabric, which when placed around a wrist can monitor heart rate and can be worn and washed at least 10 times without compromising its monitoring ability. The research team is being led by senior research fellow Dr Shaila Afroj.
The team’s goal is to develop wearable garments, such as a T-shirt, that are unobtrusive to the patient and can be used in hospitals or at home to enable health data to be monitored remotely and continuously, UWE Bristol said in a news release.
“We’re taking significant steps forward in designing the ‘textiles of the future’. Imagine a COVID patient who’s isolating at home, wearing a simple printed T-shirt which is continuously collecting current body temperature, oxygen saturation and heartrate data,” said senior research fellow Dr Shaila Afroj. “The technology within the T-shirt, which is unnoticeable to the wearer, sends the results to their smart phone, sounding an alarm if their vital signs fall outside a normal range, and then notifies their GP or a medical monitoring service.”
The CFPR team is utilising the advantages of graphene, a promising new material, which shows incredible thermal and electrical conductivity, high elasticity, strength, lightweight, and transparency. They prepare their own graphene from scratch to be able to tune it to make it the best possible candidate for sensing applications, and choose to avoid commonly used solvents, which are known to be toxic to humans and the environment, and even carcinogenic.
The team uses inkjet printing for digital fabrication of conductive tracks of graphene onto textile substrates, producing 10 picolitres of tiny drops of material on demand, theoretically printing with zero material waste and minimum water usage.
Dr Afroj plans to incorporate body temperature and oxygen saturation into the next prototypes.
“This is an exciting development in this area of research; it has brought invaluable knowledge as we continue to develop this technology. Such wearable e-textiles could be used for monitoring post-surgery patients, infants and babies, patients in triage at hospital, and for health-monitoring of the elderly. It could also enable early detection of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic cases of COVID-19, potentially reducing the community transmission via remote monitoring of infectious diseases,” Dr Afroj added.