Vitamin C promotes healthy immune function, which makes it a familiar component in daily supplements and home remedies for colds and mild illnesses. Research suggests that vitamin C therapy could also address more severe conditions; high doses of the essential nutrient might even help patients recover from COVID-19. A team at the University of California San Diego has developed a wearable sensor that tracks vitamin C levels in sweat. This device could aid providers in fine-tuning vitamin C therapy.

The body can’t synthesize vitamin C from other nutrients, so it must obtain it through diet or supplements. Monitoring the amount of vitamin C needed to improve outcomes in cases of COVID-19 and other illnesses presents a challenge because everyone metabolizes the supplement at an individual rate. In recent trials, the new sensor accurately detected changes in vitamin C levels in four human subjects, suggesting that personalized, moment-to-moment nutrient tracking could soon become a reality.

By designing a device that monitors nutrient levels — rather than physical activity, vital signs, or symptoms — the UC San Diego team has pioneered an innovative new direction for wearable technology. The device employs a flexible electrode sensor that contains an enzyme called ascorbate oxidase. An adhesive epidermal patch houses the sensor. When perspiration contains vitamin C, the enzyme converts it to dehydroascorbic acid. The conversion process generates an electric current which the sensor detects and measures to analyze vitamin C levels and dynamics.

Because of the implication in the treatment of COVID-19, the UC San Diego team hopes to bring the device to clinical settings as quickly as possible. As the new wearable could also help address nutritional deficiencies and provide support during dietary changes, the team has partnered with global nutrition company DSM to refine the patch for consumers who wish to track personal nutrition.