Tracking the Heart with New Wearable Technology

Electronics send vital sign stats to patients' doctors instantly

This is not your father's heart-rate monitor. Wearable, stretchable electronics can now monitor several body functions and instantaneously send the information to a doctor. The implications could be huge for patients in sickness and in health.

Bill Winkler runs for fitness and to keep his two heart problems in check. He has cardiomyopathy and atrial fibrillation.

"It tends to make me a little more tired and when I'm in atrial fibrillation. I feel a lot worse than with the cardiomyopathy," Winkler said.

Winkler has an implanted defibrillator, which tracks his heart and can shock it back into rhythm, and a heart rate app on his phone.

"It will tell you at the end whether you're in AFib or normal," said Winkler.

However, information gets to his doctor later.

"We've been able to create a new class of materials that we call stretchable electronics," said Marvin Slepian, associate department head of biomedical engineering at the University of Arizona.

Slepian figured out how to put thin electronics into materials that move with the body. The bio stamp sends metrics on heart rate, movement and more to an iPad in real time.

"If the patient is wearing this, we can track that and we can actually see decompensation, which may occur even before they wind up in the hospital," Slepian said.

He also developed a catheter and balloon with a thousand sensors to detect atrial fibrillation, and then fix it in minutes. It's all good news to Winkler.

"Knowing that all the vitals are being watched would be very reassuring," said Winkler.

Slepian is working in collaboration with researchers at the University of Illinois, Tufts and Northwestern. They've also developed a wearable sweat sensor that can track electrolytes and hydration. It could be used for athletes and for soldiers in the field.

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