Just before a viral illness such as the flu or COVID-19 worsens, our bodies start producing more inflammatory biomarkers, and the concentrations of these biomarkers in our bodily fluids increases. Therefore by continuously monitoring these biomarker concentrations on our skin’s surface, doctors can spot such turns for the worse and act immediately, preventing complications and saving lives. That’s the idea behind the latest development work being done at Xsensio, which has just been granted CHF 1.8 million by the European Innovation Council (EIC) to adapt its Lab-on-Skin™ technology so that it will detect biomarkers specific to viral inflammations. Only 36 of the 1,400 funding applications were selected for the EIC’s two-year funding program, intended to support the fight against COVID-19.
Simultaneous and continuous biomarker measurements
“Our highly miniaturized Lab-on-Skin™ technology means we can create biomarker-sensing patches that operate continuously, which could be an important element in the future of healthcare,” says Esmeralda Megally, Xsensio CEO. While existing wearable health-monitoring systems measure only physical signs, Xsensio’s system gives immediate readings of biochemical indicators – the same indicators that are currently analyzed in blood samples sent to a lab.
A microfluidic path brings the biofluids toward the chip © 2020 EPFL
The Lab-on-Skin™ patches each contain a tiny computer chip (just 5 mm on a side) that could hold thousands of miniature sensors coated with different biochemicals depending on the type of biomarker to be detected: proteins, electrolytes, metabolites or specific compounds. The bodily fluid collected by the patch is carried to the sensors via capillary action through a microfluidic system. The results of the patches’ analyses are immediately sent by Bluetooth to a smartphone app where patients and their doctors or, in some cases, athletes and their coaches, can view and store them. The miniaturized components require very little energy thanks to their structure; depending on the application, they can run anywhere from one day to one week.
Xsensio’s engineers developed the miniaturization technology in association with EPFL’s Nanolab. The patches’ small size, along with their ability to accommodate different biochemical surfaces, means the Lab-on-Chip™ system is modulable and can be used in a variety of monitoring situations. Xsensio had already developed other applications for its wearable technology under an EU research project on analytics for high-level athletes and an 18-month joint R&D project with one of the world’s ten largest biopharma companies. “Over the next two years we will work on developing sensors specifically for viral inflammations and on configuring our system so that the data it generates are reliable enough to be used in medical applications,” says Megally. “We made a strategic decision to orient our development work towards the medical industry, with its high standards for reliability and accuracy. That said, our system could also be used for broader healthcare applications like connected watches.”
Xsensio was founded in 2014 and will soon move into EPFL’s Innovation Park. The firm plans to take full advantage of two key trends that are set to grow: connected healthcare and miniaturized, flexible electronics that can be worn on the skin.