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Could a biosensor "tattoo" help stop drunk driving?

For those out on the town, an experimental wearable device could help you know whether you’ve had too much to drink. Engineers from the University of California, San Diego in La Jolla – with funding from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) – have created what is basically a wearable sensor that detects alcohol levels in your perspiration and then sends that information to your smartphone.

tattooalcohol1.jpg

The wearable sensor uses a method called iontophoresis to induce perspiration. The unit then measures the alcohol content and sends it to the user’s cell phone.

American Chemical Society

“It resembles a temporary tattoo, but is actually a biosensor patch that is embedded with several flexible wireless components,” Seila Selimovic, Ph.D., director of the NIBIB Program in Tissue Chips, said in a press release. “One component releases a chemical that stimulates perspiration on the skin below the patch. Another component senses changes in the electrical current flowing through the generated sweat, which measures alcohol levels and sends them to the user’s cell phone.” 

The phone could then alert the user that it’s not safe to drive.

The goal is to help cut back on dangerous levels of drinking that lead to alcohol-fueled car accidents and chronic health problems. The stakes are certainly high. The CDC reports about 88,000 people in the U.S. die each year from alcohol-related causes, and according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 9,900 are killed in drunk driving crashes. 

Compared to breathalyzers or blood tests, the inventors hope this wearable technology could offer a less intimidating way for people to monitor their alcohol consumption

“Measuring alcohol in sweat has been attempted before, but those technologies took 2-3 hours to measure alcohol levels,” said Patrick Mercier, Ph.D., the co-senior author of the study. “Our patch sends alcohol levels to your smartphone in just 8 minutes, making real-time alcohol monitoring possible, practical, and personal.”

The research was published in the July issue of the journal ACS Sensors. 

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