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For years, car companies have been developing smart sensors to provide real-time monitoring of vehicle conditions, including engine oil pressure, tire pressure, and air-fuel mixture. Together, these sensors can provide the driver with an early warning system to identify a potential problem before it needs to be fixed.

Now, in the same biological vein, Zheng Yan, an associate professor at the MU College of Engineering at the University of Missouri, recently published two studies demonstrating different ways to improve wearable bioelectronic devices and materials to provide better real-time monitoring. human health status, including vital signs.

Development of a “smart” face mask

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought many people’s attention to the idea of ​​wearing masks. In this regard, one of the tasks of Yang’s laboratory was the development of breathing soft bioelectronics. He said it was natural for him and his team to come up with the idea of ​​integrating bioelectronics into a breathable face mask that can track someone’s physiological state based on a person’s cough pattern. Their findings were recently published in AKS NanoJournal of the American Chemical Society.

“Different breathing problems lead to different frequency and degree of coughing,” Yang said. “Taking chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as an example, the frequency of coughing in the early morning is higher than during the day and night. Our smart face mask can effectively track cough frequency, which can help doctors learn about disease progression and provide timely, customized interventions.”

In addition to monitoring a person’s physiological state, the mask can also help determine if the mask is being worn in public using a bioelectronic sensor, according to Yang. Currently, the mask does not have the ability to provide automatic reminders, but they would like to develop this feature in the future.

Laser production of wearable electronics

For a decade, scientists have been using a laser-assisted manufacturing approach, but Yang said one area where the approach could still be useful is the creation of wearable bioelectronics.

“Laser fabrication is simple, scalable, economical and highly customizable,” Yang said. “This could reduce the cost of wearable electronics and benefit both its practical disposability and personalization by providing specialized devices for healthcare applications.”

In a recent study published in Scientific achievementsJournal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Yang and his team explored the potential of using a metallic conductor called MoO2.

“It has high electrical conductivity, chemical stability, MRI compatibility, and biocompatibility, which is well suited for creating various bioelectronic sensors and stimulators,” Yang said.

Yang said one potential application of this approach could be to help monitor a person’s breathing.

“Observing a person’s breathing rhythm will be useful for diagnosing certain diseases, such as sleep apnea,” Yang said. “In addition, we could simultaneously monitor heart rate, heart rate change, and electroencephalograms to provide more comprehensive information for studying sleep apnea.”

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