The device provides real-time data for more personalized treatment


A team of engineers and doctors from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities have designed a unique 3D-printed light-sensing medical device that is placed directly on the skin and gives real-time feedback to correlate exposure to light with outbreaks of disease. The device could help millions of people around the world with lupus and other light-sensitive illnesses by giving them access to more personalized treatments and information to determine the causes of their symptoms.

The research has been published in Advanced sciences, a premium open access interdisciplinary scientific journal. The researchers have also filed for a patent on the device and the technology is available for licensing.

According to the Lupus Foundation of America, approximately 1.5 million Americans and at least 5 million people worldwide have some form of lupus. Light sensitivity is common in people with lupus, with 40-70% of people with lupus finding that their condition is made worse by exposure to sunlight or even artificial light indoors. Symptoms of these flare-ups in lupus patients include rashes, joint pain, and fatigue.

“I treat many patients with lupus or lupus-like conditions, and clinically it’s hard to predict when patients’ symptoms will get worse,” said University of Minnesota Medical School dermatologist Dr. Dr. David Pearson and co-author of the study. “We know that ultraviolet light, and in some cases visible light, can cause flare-ups of symptoms – both on their skin and internally – but we don’t always know what combinations of light wavelengths contribute to symptoms.”

Pearson had heard about the revolutionary, custom 3D printing of wearable devices developed by University of Minnesota mechanical engineering professor Michael McAlpine and his team and contacted him to collaborate on finding a solution to his problem. problem.

McAlpine’s research group worked with Pearson to develop a fully 3D-printed device, the first of its kind, with a flexible UV-visible light detector that could be placed on the skin. The device is integrated into a custom-made handheld console to continuously monitor and correlate light exposure to symptoms.

“This research builds on our previous work where we developed a fully 3D-printed light-emitting device, but this time instead of emitting light, it receives light,” said co-author McAlpine. study and Kuhrmeyer family professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. “The light is converted into electrical signals to measure it, which in the future can then be correlated with the patient’s symptom flares.”

McAlpine said developing the device was no easy task, however. The 3D-printed device consists of multiple layers of materials printed on a biocompatible silicone base. The layers include electrodes and optical filters. Filters can be changed depending on the wavelength of light that needs to be assessed. The research team also used zinc oxide to collect ultraviolet (UV) light and convert it into electrical signals. The device is mounted on the skin and a custom console is attached to capture and store data.

The research team has received permission to begin testing the device on human subjects and will soon begin recruiting study participants.

“We know these devices work in the lab, but our next step is really to get them into the hands of patients to see how they work in real life,” Pearson said. “We can give them to participants and track the light they’ve been exposed to and figure out how we can predict symptoms. We’ll also continue lab testing to improve the device.”

McAlpine and Pearson said the 3D printing process is relatively inexpensive and could one day provide easy and quick access to the device without the costly manufacturing processes of traditional devices.

“There’s no other device like this right now with this customization potential and such easy manufacturing,” Pearson said. “The dream would be to have one of these 3D printers right in my office. I could see a patient and assess the wavelengths of light that we want to assess. Then I could just print it for the patient and give it to them. “It could be 100% customized to their needs. That’s where the future of medicine is going.”

In addition to Pearson and McAlpine, the University of Minnesota research team included Xia Ouyang, Ruitao Su, Daniel Wai Hou Ng, and Guebum Han from the University of Minnesota Department of Mechanical Engineering.

The research was supported by a University of Minnesota Research, Art, and Scholarship Grant and a University Investment Research Program grant. Support was also provided by the National Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering of the National Institutes of Health. Parts of this work were conducted at the Minnesota Nano Center, which is supported by the National Science Foundation through the National Nano Coordinated Infrastructure Network (NNCI).



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