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article imageEssential Science: Skin sensor can measure oxygen in the body

By Tim Sandle     Nov 12, 2018 in Science
A new sensor can monitor oxygen levels inside the human body, by scanning the surface of the skin. The new device can be used to track the progress of oxygenation in relation to healing wounds in real time, providing valuable medical data.
The healing of wounds is dependent upon oxygen. Living tissue needs oxygen and nutrients to thrive, and with wounds, it is needed to regenerate healthy tissue. Oxygen is involved in numerous biological processes such as cell proliferation and protein synthesis, which are required for restoration of tissue function and integrity. Adequate wound tissue oxygenation can trigger healing responses and favorably influence the outcomes of other treatments.
Surgeons at work
Surgeons at work
U.S. Navy
Oximeters
To promote healing by maximizing oxygen reaction, researchers at University of California, Berkeley have come up with a new scanner that can assesses blood-oxygen levels by scanning areas of skin. This is a new type of oximeter, but one more efficient and effective than any currently available on the market.
An oximeter is a non-invasive method for monitoring a person's oxygen saturation. The typical process involves passing two wavelengths of light through the body part to a photodetector. The light is generated through light emitting diodes. Oxygen levels are detected by changes in absorbance at each of the wavelengths. Oxygen-rich blood (red in color) absorbs more infrared light, while darker, oxygen-poor blood absorbs more red light. However, the thicker the area of the body (such as the head), the more challenging it is to obtain an accurate reading.
File photo showing a transdermal patch.
File photo showing a transdermal patch.
Nicoderm corp (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Based on this, medics can look for deviations from a patient’s oxygen baseline, as an early warning signal. The consequences of desaturation can signal both hypoxaemia or cyanosis. Hypoxemia refers to oxygen deficiency in arterial blood and it can lead to exacerbation of chronic obstructive airway diseases. Cyanosis refers to the development of bluish or purplish discolouration of the skin or mucous membranes due to the tissues near the skin surface having low oxygen saturation.
New device
The new device is based on organic electronics (organic photodiodes) that have been 3D printed onto a bendable plastic. The plastic allows the device to bend to the contours of the body. The sensors in-built into the device can measure oxygen levels at nine points within a grid; a convectional device can only measure oxygen levels at one location. A key difference with the device is with its use of reflected light rather than transmitted light.
An emergency medical delivery vehicle in London. The type of activity suitable for blockchain techno...
An emergency medical delivery vehicle in London. The type of activity suitable for blockchain technology.
The sensor can also assess oxygen levels in tissue and organs. The data is collected in real-time, allowing medics to take action when required to address situations where wound healing is not optimal.
Discussing the technology with Laboratory Manager magazine, one of the researchers, Yasser Khan states: “When you hear the word oximeter, the name for blood-oxygen sensors, rigid and bulky finger-clip sensors come into your mind. We wanted to break away from that, and show oximeters can be lightweight, thin, and flexible."
The device can allow for 24/7 monitoring of patients. The technology can not only be applied to wound healing. It can be used to assess conditions like diabetes, respiration diseases, and even sleep apnea.
Research paper
The research has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research is titled “A flexible organic reflectance oximeter array.”
The research was supported by Cambridge Display Technology Limited and by Intel Corporation via Semiconductor Research Corporation.
Essential Science
A sample of the Midnight Dark bar from Fearless Chocolate
A sample of the Midnight Dark bar from Fearless Chocolate
This article is part of Digital Journal's regular Essential Science columns. Each week Tim Sandle explores a topical and important scientific issue. Last week we weighed in on new Canadian research suggests that the origins of chocolate are older than any previous research has indicated.
The week before we looked at new evidence around the health risks of eating red meat. The specific substances that cause a build-up of plaque and which lead to arterial blockages have been identified by researchers. These substances cause an immune response which is linked to heart disease, and they derive from read meat.
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