UCSD Receives $100K Gates Grant

The project, called “Epidermal Electronics for Continuous Pregnancy Monitoring,” is headed by bioengineering professor Todd Coleman and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign material science and engineering professor John A. Rogers. 

“The system provides an ultra-thin, ultra-light, non intrusive platform for sensing physiological signals,” Coleman said. “It can be laminated onto the skin using a temporary tattoo.” 

According to a May 9 UCSD press release, the scientists will use the device to monitor contractions, fetal heart rate and oxygen. The technology has the potential to allow wireless and continuous pregnancy monitoring of at-risk patients. 

The device consists of a flexible tattoo-like electronic system that is mounted on the skin. It is a patch made of circuits, sensors and wireless transmitters that can stick to the skin like an electronic tattoo. The monitor can flex and stretch with the skin as well as overcome problems of sweating and continuous cell turnover of the skin. 

The tattoo electronics are laminated onto the belly of the mom and will continuously measure uterine contractions, EKG heart signals of the mom and fetus, body temperature and blood oxygenation of the mom. The measured signals will then be transmitted wirelessly on a receiver on a nearby smartphone.

“It is the result of cutting edge research at the intersection of materials science, electrical engineering and biomedical engineering,” Coleman said.

The Grand Challenges Explorations grant program focuses on overcoming the most persistent challenges in global health. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has donated $100 million to the grant. More than 700 grants have been awarded to early stage projects in 45 different countries since the grant’s inception in 2008. 

“We have won the first phase of the Grand Challenge Grant, which is $100,000 over 18 months starting May 2012,” Coleman said. “A second round of funding for $1 million is available from the foundation provided we satisfactorily achieve our goals in the first phase.”

Coleman said that in the first phase, the researchers will test the device in UCSD hospitals while pregnant mothers are in labor. In the second phase, they will deploy the devices worldwide. 

“With the advance of epidermal electronics, we imagine that the boundaries between human bodies and electronics will continue to be blurred,” Coleman said. “New technology will enable us to interact with each other as well as with computers.”