Innovation That Matters

Imperial researchers have developed a way for sensors to be integrated into clothing fabric | Photo source Güder Research Group

Monitoring disease through t-shirts and face masks

Health & Wellbeing

A conductive thread incorporates more than 10 sensors into a fabric

Spotted: Strong yet flexible, a new conductive thread developed by a team from Imperial College London’s Department of Biochemical Engineering monitors markers for disease and tracks general health. Called Pecotex, the thread is cotton-based and fully compatible with use in industry-standard fabrics and sewing machines. Tested against commercially available silver-based conductive threads, Pecotex proved to be less likely to break when being used in embroidery. It was also more electrically conductive, which the team says opens possibilities for harvesting and storing energy generated by the wearer’s movements.

For now, scientists are focusing on health trackers and have used the machine-washable thread in t-shirts and face masks. A sensory face mask monitors breathing rates and can track exhalation of gases such as ammonia, which can indicate potential health problems. When integrated into a t-shirt, the sensors track heart signals, allowing health teams to monitor continuously and from afar the wearer’s general condition.

With at least 10 physical symptoms and conditions trackable through the sensors, individuals and teams can build a much more detailed understanding of a range of conditions. Researchers are also exploring ways to personalise medicine through the biochemical sensing the thread makes possible. The thread is inexpensive to produce, costing around 15 US cents per metre. Scientists hope that this affordability will make it easier to find a commercial partner for full production.

Other health tech innovations recently spotted by Springwise include an in-home wireless device that tracks Parkinson’s disease, computer vision that revolutionises the management of hospital beds, and a wireless skin that measures pulse, sweat and UV exposure.

Written By: Keely Khoury

Email: bioengineering@imperial.ac.uk

Website: imperial.ac.uk/bioengineering

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