Researchers developed a fashionable way to monitor your heart. Now you can wear a graphic of your choice with wires developed specifically for medical purposes. Tell your mom tattoos are healthy after all! Details after the jump.
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X Emma Rabid

Researchers have developed a new skin-mounted electronic device with bendable circuitry that stretches along with the skin, making healthcare electronics look and feel more like a part of the body.

According to the journal Science, the extremely-thin, temporary tattoo-like device was created by engineers at the University of Illinois and is able to attach to the skin to measure vital signs. In addition to being able to check heart rate, brain activity and muscle contractions, the researchers said it could have applications in physical rehabilitation and prosthetics.

“What we’ve been trying to do is to figure out how to make a class of electronics that is soft and curvilinear, stretchable and deformable like the skin, because if you could do that then you could very naturally integrate that kind of electronics with the surface of the skin,” said John Rogers, co-author and professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Like a temporary tattoo, the device uses no sticky adhesives, pins or clips to stay attached to the skin. The ultra-slender innovation attaches itself through weak forces of molecular attraction and conforms to the shape of human skin. And, like a temporary tattoo, because the skin continuously exfoliates skin cells, the device begins to be sloughed off in a week or two.

Electronics use silicon, a fragile material, and so it was the engineering of the super-thin silicone membrane that enable that makes it bendable and supple. These snake-like silicon threads serve as wires that connect to tiny sensors designed to monitor specific body functions.

In addition to monitoring, researchers demonstrated a range of uses for the technology. One example showed how the muscle contractions in a person’s neck can control the mouse in a computer game, and another demonstrated how the device would be used to apply localized electrical stimulation or temperature changes on a wound, becoming a “smart bandage.”

The device is emerging in concert with other, similar mobile medical products at a time when researchers from the Center for Technology and Aging are predicting the mobile healthcare market will reach $5 billion by 2014, and more than double by 2020.

Mobile technology is transforming how hospitals, providers, caregivers, and patients monitor health conditions and providing an avenue to access health information outside the traditional setting.

Older populations, and their wider range of medical issues, already benefit from mobile technology. For example, apps can remind patients to take their medication, alerting caregivers to missed schedules and prompting intervention when they are in trouble or injured. In addition, location tracking devices can keep tabs on patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

And, as electronic technology continues to become more integrated with biology, it may reduce the need for some of the more invasive procedures that are standard today. Many predict the streamlined innovation could help remove bulky hospital monitoring equipment, cords and wires, and may even reduce the use of needles.

The company Rogers co-founded, MC10, plans to release its very first application of the ultra-thin, bendable silicon product in early 2012.