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Developers of wearables need to understand skin science

By Tim Sandle     Sep 5, 2017 in Health
If the wearable technology market is to progress, developers will need to understand the science of human skin better, a new report suggests. Future technologies are set to cover conditions like heart conditions, diabetes, and pain relief.
Wearables are set to make a greater contribution to digital health according to Dr. Diana Eitzman. Dr. Eitzman is the director of agile commercialization for 3M’s Critical & Chronic Care Solutions Division. She told QMed in a recent interview: “Wearables can help patients stay out of the hospital.” For this reason, combined with an improving reception from the medical sector, investment in wearables is set to expand in 2018 and offer new opportunities for start-ups, as well as major players like 3M.
Dr. Eitzman has recently presented a report to at MD&M East 2017 (the largest ‘medtech’ event on the east coast of the U.S.). The report and accompanying presentation was titled: “Science of Skin: Challenges of Long Wear Adhesives.” In the presentation, Dr. Eitzman discussed the critical considerations when developing wearables to be worn on skin, as well as the requirements for developing an appropriate proper adhesive.
For next-generation health wearables to be effective, Dr. Eitzman said that developers need to understand the complexity of human skin better. Here she states: “Skin is multilayer, and the stratum corneum layer of the epidermis sheds cells and replaces itself in 14 days.” She also notes, furthering the complexities of device development: “the epidermis layer thins as you age and loses hyaluronic acid—it is an at-risk surface.”
One way that wearables might work better is by taking layers of skin off, to lower the surface tension. The quality of many wearables is also affected by how it binds to the skin. Here the types of adhesives can make a significant difference. According to a 3M study (published as a white paper “Evaluation of Wear Time for Various Tapes on Human Volunteers: 21-day Study”), the user population is significant for determining the suitability of the adhesive. Adhesives may need to differ depending upon whether the skin is fragile skin or if the device needs to be fitted in a moist area.
As an example of developments with wearable technology, University of Tokyo scientists have created a hypoallergenic electronic sensor that can be worn on the skin continuously for a week without discomfort. The device has been fashioned to be very light and thin so that users forget they are wearing it. The device acts as an elastic electrode fashioned from breathable nanoscale meshes. The technology has been reported to Nature Communications in the research paper “Inflammation-free, gas-permeable, lightweight, stretchable on-skin electronics with nanomeshes.”
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