(Nanowerk News) Sweat is more than a sign of good exercise. It stores important information about our health, providing clues about dehydration, fatigue, blood sugar levels and even serious conditions like cystic fibrosis, diabetes and heart failure. Researchers at the University of Hawaiʻi at the Mānoa College of Engineering have made a giant leap in sweat analysis with an innovative 3D printed sweat sensor called a “sweatainer”.
The findings were published in Advances in Science (“Micofluidic system with spatially engineered 3D fluidic skin interface for sweat capture and analysis”).
Harnessing the power of additive manufacturing (3D printing), researchers have developed a new type of wearable sweat sensor that extends the capabilities of wearable sweat devices. The sweattainer is a small, wearable device similar in size to a child’s sticker that collects and analyzes sweat, offering a glimpse of future health monitoring. By incorporating various sensors, sweatmakers can analyze sweat in a fashion similar to previous wearable sweat detection systems.
“3D printing enables entirely new design modes for wearable sweat sensors by enabling us to fabricate fluidic networks and features of unprecedented complexity,” said Department of Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Tyler Ray. “With the sweatainer, we leveraged 3D printing to showcase the enormous opportunities this approach allows for prototyping high-end sweatsuits that are accessible, innovative and cost-effective.”
Efficient and cost effective approach
The traditional approach to sweat collection uses absorbent pads or (very narrow) microbore tubes pressed against the epidermis (surface layer of skin) using bands or straps to catch sweat as it exits the skin. These techniques require trained personnel, special handling, and expensive laboratory equipment. The recent advent of wearable sweat sensors has overcome some of these challenges, but these devices are still disposable. When the device is full, it must be removed and sweat collection stopped.
One unique feature of the sweatainer is its “multi-draw” sweat collection method, which allows the collection of several separate sweat samples for analysis either directly on the device or sent to a laboratory. Inspired by the vacutainer used in clinical blood sampling, these advances not only make sweat collection more efficient but also open up new possibilities for in-home testing, storing samples for future research, and integrating with existing health monitoring methods.
Field studies of sweatainer systems highlight the real-world potential of this innovative technology. Through the blueprint defined in the sweatainer, the researchers hope it will continue to drive innovation to create a future where personal health monitoring is more accessible, convenient, and insightful.