Medical engineers have revealed a new device that can monitor patients suffering from “movement disorders” by tracking their muscle activity, before deciding on the appropriate medication. But unlike traditional monitoring methods for conditions such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease, this new device is the size of a standard plaster or band-aid and can be worn on the skin.

The device can monitor its patients thanks to the built-in nanotechnology, which uses tiny atoms and molecules to irradicate the issues of stiffness and bulkiness that had become synonomous with the older monitoring devices.

nanomaterial plaster

It has been a long-standing goal for scientists to be able to create such an inconspicuous medical device, that could not only record and store a patient’s medical data, but also administer the correct drugs in response to the data. Historically, the electronics used in monitoring devices have been hard and brittle, making them unsuitable for use on the skin. Not to mention the difficulties in finding a way to house the large amount of onboard electronics and storage space that is required.

However, the answer has come in the form of nanomaterials, which have allowed the team from the U.S. and South Korea to create a device that is flexible and only one millimetre thick.

“The team use silicon nanomembranes in the motion sensors, gold nanoparticles in the non-volatile memory and silica nanoparticles, loaded with drugs, in a thermal actuator,” explain the creators in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

A trial of the device showed how when worn on the wrist, the patch can record and measure muscle activity. The collected data then triggered the release of medication that is stored within the nanoparticles, thanks to the wafer-thin internal heater. Built-in to the thin monitor is a temperature sensor made from silicon nanomembranes, which track skin temperature, ensuring that the wearer is not burnt during the drug delivery.

For the device to operate, a microprocessor from an external computer is needed, which has thin wires attached but Dae-Hyeong Kim from the Center for Nanoparticle Research in Seoul explains that, “in the future wireless components will be incorporated, to make the device independent and fully mobile.”