Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, have created a skin patch that could monitor complex biometrics remotely. The soft, flexible patch adheres to the neck and measures blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of glucose, lactate, alcohol, and caffeine in the user’s blood.

The research team built the initial prototype to develop a flexible multisensor skin patch that monitors cardiovascular, metabolic, and hemodynamic activity. Having that kind of complex data could help patients with hypertension or diabetes and their providers better understand how the intake of food and drink affects cardiovascular function and provide information about individual metabolic rates.

The UCSD patch combines existing skin monitoring technology — a blood pressure sensor and two electrodes — with a flexible, durable polymer skin patch. The blood pressure sensor uses tiny transducers that send ultrasound waves into the body when voltage is applied to the patch. The sensor records echoes within vascular structures to determine blood pressure.

One electrode releases a chemical that stimulates perspiration and then identifies lactate, caffeine, and alcohol within sweat. The other electrode uses a mild electrical current to release interstitial fluid through the skin, measuring the fluid for glucose content.

UCSD teams have developed previous versions of these technologies, including flexible skin patches, as have teams from other research gropus. The novelty of the latest skin patch lies in its ability to combine so many sensors into a small patch without losing signal integrity due to wear and tear or interference between sensors.

The new patch doesn’t have a self-contained power source or data-software transmission capability, which means that it’s still far from a market-ready wearable. Time will tell if these minuscule, 3-D printed sensors can consistently obtain usable biometric data. The researchers found that measurements from the patch consistently matched standard monitoring devices such as a blood pressure cuff, blood lactate meter, and glucometer during testing.

Still, successfully combining sensors without signal interference bodes well for advances in remote patient monitoring. Once clinically validated for reliability, future versions of the UCSD device might offer a non-invasive option for contactless monitoring for ICU patients and even vulnerable infants in the NICU.