Researchers Unveil Non-Invasive Material Capable Of Real-Time Electrolyte Monitoring


Researchers with New Mexico’s Sandia National Laboratory published a study this month in the journal for Advanced Healthcare Materials that describes a newly designed material that is capable of non-invasively collecting and analyzing microscopic samples to monitor electrolyte levels in real time.

The material is made up of a layer of microneedles so small that they do not make contact with nerve endings when they are pressed against the skin. The needles sink into the surface of the skin where they extract interstitial fluid, the fluid that settles between skin cells. Interstitial fluid contains trace amounts of electrolytes which are able to be accurately measured when analyzed with a cartridge containing carbon electrodes. All of this technology, researchers say, could be engineered to fit on a wearable wristwatch. The prototype created at Sandia was able to accurately monitor potassium levels in athletes during training, but researchers confirmed that the cartridges can be easily programmed to monitor many different electrolytes, such as sodium or calcium.

In a press release issued announcing the findings, researchers suggest that the technology could help healthcare move away from centralized laboratories,  “This is the future of personalized health care,” lead researcher Ronen Polsky explains, “These wearable technologies are just starting to come out in different forms. It’s inevitable that people will go there.”

Polsky envisions wearable devices tailored for athletes, soldiers, or any other personnel engaged in strenuous work. The devices, he says, would be able to actively monitor key electrolyte levels, alerting the users when values fell outside of optimal ranges. The researchers conducted initial proof of concept testing to validate the discovery, and are now working with physicians at the University of New Mexico to expand human testing and ensure that the sensors are both accurate and effective at monitoring electrolytes. Justin Baca, MD, a researcher with UNM explains that that novel techniques to monitor biomarkers through interstitial fluid are a promising avenue because “it’s hard, using traditional methods, to take blood samples continuously.”

Sandia National Laboratory, which is owned by Lockheed Martin Corporation, is far better known for its work developing nuclear weapons components and technologies focused on reducing nuclear proliferation. The laboratory launched its biomedical sensors project in 2007 to support homeland security and Department of Defense personnel interests. It’s non-invasive electrolyte monitoring technology was  initially conceived as a way to help military personnel reduce heat causalities suffered by military personnel in high temperature climates, but the lab quickly realized that there was a sizeable commercial market for the technology as well. Investors representing both healthcare and sports medicine have approached Sandia about licensing the technology for broader uses.

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