Smart Skin Patch

A painless microneedle skin patch for delivering the right amount of a blood-thinning drug. Credit: Yuqi Zhang

Researchers at North Carolina State University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have developed a smart skin patch to monitor blood and release "thinning" drugs as needed.

.We live thanks to a finely tuned balance that keeps our different tissues and organs work independently and as a whole system at the same time. Blood has to strike a balance between been too "liquid" which would lead to hemorrhaging  or too dense which would lead to clots. 

Most of the time we don't give a second thought to this balance, yet many people have to check it periodically, some frequently, and to correct with medications (like heparin). This is again an exercise in balancing and it is quite tricky since it may in turn overcorrect causing thromboses or hemorrhaging. 

This is where the smart skin patch gets useful. By continually monitoring the thrombin level in the blood through an array of micro-needles, so tiny that you won't feel them, the patch can release the correct amount of heparin needed to restore the balance. Interestingly, the researchers achieved this by embedding the heparin in the needles and using a mechanism that automatically releases the heparin at certain level of thrombin. It is a smart patch made by a smart material "programmed" in its structure to achieve the balance.

In the future we are going to see the design and creation of several "smart material" whose structure is actually "function oriented", i.e. that work in a certain way, show certain characteristics, because they have been designed at material level for that.

In a way this is another facet of Industry 4.0, at very basic molecular level.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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