Epicore Biosystems and its skin-like microfluidic sensing
Epicore Biosystems (Cambridge, Mass.) has developed a proprietary low-cost, “skin-like” microfluidic sensing platform that can analyze small droplets of sweat directly from the skin. The company is a spinoff based on more than two decades of microfluidic and soft materials research in John Rogers’ Laboratory at Northwestern University’s Center for Bio-Integrated Electronics, and previously at the University of Illinois.
Epicore’s disposable wearable device will first be commercialized as a biochemical sweat analytics system for athletes. It has already been deployed to professional sports teams (NBA, NFL, and MLB) and military research labs, and across multiple clinical study programs investigating its use for stroke, skin health, stress, fatigue, and kidney health.
“There’s a lot of information in a single droplet of sweat,” said Epicore CEO Roozbeh Ghaffari, who is also director of translational research at the Center for Bio-Integrated Electronics. “We’re essentially building a new class of devices that can probe the content and makeup of your sweat whether you’re an athlete or a patient or doing any type of analysis of your skin health and the overall content of your biochemical composition. You’re able to put these devices on and measure different physiological parameters on a single device.”
Epicore’s sweat-sensing patches are made of multilayered polymers patterned to cut out excess material to create channels that enable the flow of sweat from the skin. Atop this material are flexible hybrid modules of circuits that can measure heart rate and motion activity with discrete sensors that are encapsulated within the microfluidic channels.
Each patch employs an optical sensor that shines an LED light through the skin and measures the reflected light back as a signal to indicate the pulse, measuring the heart rate with an optical rather than an electrical signal, Ghaffari said. The patches can be made in custom sizes to accommodate higher volumes of perspiration, can be worn anywhere on the body and are waterproof enough to withstand showering and swimming.
An athlete’s patch will be larger than one designed for an elderly person who is not very active but needs health monitoring, according to A.J. Aranyosi, VP of research and digital science for Epicore.
“We have the flexibility to design for both of those extremes and anything in between,” Aranyosi said.
Epicore is working with the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago to research the biochemical output of people who are in rehabilitation for stroke and other conditions, but more research needs to be done before the patch can be used as a medical device, according to Ghaffari. It will debut as a disposable consumer item first, in part thanks to NextFlex, which helped propel Epicore into conversations with manufacturers and material vendors.
“A lot of these applications have their biggest impact in medicine and healthcare,” Ghaffari said. “It happens that it has other applications outside of healthcare. We’re thinking about this from a consumer health and wellness standpoint.”