The skin patches were described as using "tattoo-like" sensors and could be sold commercially for use by sports organizations with their athletes who are not in ill health as well as to medical care providers to keep close watch on patients.
Professor John Rogers, from the University of Illinois, detailed the development at the American Chemical Society's annual conference in San Diego on Monday, reported the UK Telegraph.
"The technology can be used to monitor brain, heart or muscle activity in a completely non invasive way, while a patient is at home,” Rogers told the conference. “The near term will be for people with conditions of the heart, or conditions such as diabetes that need a lot of monitoring. But the bigger area of application is to pick up early signs of disease.”
The patches were reported in the summer of 2011 when the research was revealed in published in an issue of Science, an international weekly science journal.
As described in the article the devices are “ultrathin, low-modulus, lightweight, stretchable skin-like membrane”, with embedded electronic sensors. It can be applied directly to the skin like a temporary tattoo and the sensors will move along with the skin.
The electronic skin patches could substitute for electroencephalograms, electrocardiograms and electromyograms to check the health of their brains, hearts or muscles at some point in time.
Those tests can make patients uncomfortable and do not help doctors understand the levels measure when patients are going about their daily life activities, explained Rogers
His team successfully tested their sensor by measuring electrical activity produced by the heart, brain and skeletal muscles and are touting the breakthrough as a way to learn more about patients' vital signs when they are outside a medical office or hospital setting.
"A key feature of our epidermal electronics is its natural interface to the body, without wires, pins, adhesives or gels, to allow a much more comfortable and functional system," said Rogers as reported in Physorg.com "The technology can be used to monitor brain, heart or muscle activity in a completely noninvasive way, while a patient is at home."
The size the devices, about the same thickness as a human hair makes that possible, and wearers reportedly can't feel them on their skin. "We had to structure the system in a strategic way that would avoid any strains or stresses that would crack or fracture these tiny bits of silicon," Rogers explained.
Image credit: Wikimedia/Michał Janicki SATRO-EKG