How smart clothing could prove useful in healthcare

Researchers have developed a fiber capable of analysing the wearer’s sweat to monitor vital physiological signals related to their mental and physical health. — AFP Relaxnews

What if your T-shirt was one day able to warn you of a possible heart problem? That’s an idea that could soon become reality, as researchers around the world are working to develop smart fibers that can be woven into clothing to alert users to potential health problems.

Smart clothing is defined by the use of a fiber capable of capturing, recording, reacting to or even interacting with a signal via sensors, microelectronic components or electrodes. If some applications can currently be seen as little more than gimmicks, this clothing of the future could actually be useful in the healthcare field.

Scientists from Tōhoku University in Japan have now developed a fiber capable of analysing the sweat of the wearer in order to monitor vital physiological signals related to their mental and physical health. And it’s a first for the sector, since this type of fiber had never before been transformed into wearable fabric.

Published in the scientific journal, Analytical And Bioanalytical Chemistry, the scientists' work is, more precisely, based on a “microelectronic fiber with microscopic parameters that is capable of analysing electrolytes and metabolites in sweat”, in other words, parameters that can be viewed as markers to determine the presence of a potential health problem.

“To produce the fiber, the group leveraged the versatile thermal drawing process, where heat is applied to draw out microstructured fiber from its macroscopic preform. The team also patterned on two sensing electrodes for sodium and uric acid on the longitudinal surface of the fiber,” the researchers explain.

This is not the first time that scientists have worked on these kinds of smart fibers. As far back as 2014, researchers at Laval University in Canada presented smart textiles capable of capturing biomedical information about the people wearing them. At the time, the researchers hoped that these fibers could serve as an intermediary between individuals and emergency services in the event of a heart rhythm disorder, for example, especially during sleep.

But the Japanese scientists explain that they went even further by focusing on the processing of the fiber so that it can actually be integrated into a finished garment. “Since most developments so far could not be considered clothes, we devoted our effort to transforming fiber, to make truly wearable smart fabric,” explains Dr Yuanyuan Guo, assistant professor at Tōhoku University’s Frontier Research Institute for Interdisciplinary Sciences.

This new innovation could eventually lead to the creation of smart clothing that combines comfort and an extended detection zone, with the added advantage of offering a greater versatility of functions, the scientists say. – AFP Relaxnews

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