WEDNESDAY, Dec. 5, 2018 (HealthDay News) — A new mint-sized, battery-free patch that alerts wearers to potentially harmful sunlight exposure in real time might become a powerful weapon in preventing skin cancer.
Powered by the sun while designed to measure its rays, the patch automatically transmits sun readings to a user’s smartphone. It works wet or dry, is fully reusable, and weighs next to nothing.
“In the U.S., we’re in a skin cancer epidemic, which is driven by excessive UV exposure,” noted study author Dr. Steve (Shuai) Xu. He is a dermatology instructor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
“Thus, this technology would be useful for the majority of individuals by empowering them to know how much UV they are actually getting,” he said.
So, what does it look like and how does it work?
Xu said the device weighs less than a single tic tac, is half the diameter of a dime, and thinner than a credit card.
What’s more, “the devices are virtually indestructible,” said Xu. “We’ve washed them, dunked them in boiling water. They will last forever.”
As to function, Xu said a solar-powered sensor embedded in the patch picks up UV, infrared and/or visible light readings, sending exposure numbers wirelessly to the wearer’s smartphone app.
But the prized benefit is that “we’re able to give actionable, accurate information to the user” about sun exposure in real time, he noted. In fact, his team’s earlier work with a sensor prototype found that nearly two-thirds of patch users got fewer sunburns, while roughly one-third said they wore more sunscreen and looked for more shade.
“We’re expecting even better results with this sensor,” Xu said. “It’s more accurate and sensitive than anything else out there.”
Xu is also medical director for Northwestern’s Center for Bio-Integrated Electronics.
In the study, two outdoor UV patch trials involving more than 10 participants per experiment were conducted in the sunny locales of Rio de Janeiro and St. Petersburg, Fla. In addition, blue light therapy patch trials were conducted in three babies undergoing neonatal care in a hospital setting.