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UCLA researchers develop smartwatch to track levels of drug via patient’s sweat

Researchers at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering and the Stanford School of Medicine have developed a smartwatch that uses electrochemical analysis to track levels of a drug in the body by analyzing a patient’s sweat. The system could help with finding the correct drug and dose for a given patient in order to maximize therapeutic potential and avoid side-effects.

At present, most drugs are prescribed based on standard guidelines and can be tailored based on parameters such as age and weight, but this rarely includes any additional personalization. However, there are dramatic differences in how people respond to different drugs. A large part of this difference is down to how much of a drug is present in the circulation over time, with inter-individual differences in pharmacokinetics being responsible.

For certain drugs, clinicians use repeated blood draws and lab analysis to keep track of their levels in the blood. However, this is time consuming, expensive, and inconvenient for patients. These researchers wanted to develop a wearable smartwatch that could provide continuous real-time measurement of drug levels in the sweat. Sweat can act as a proxy for the blood, and for many drugs, levels in the sweat and the blood are very similar.

“We wanted to create a wearable technology that can track the profile of medication inside the body continuously and non-invasively,” said Sam Emaminejad, a researcher involved in the study. “This way, we can tailor the optimal dosage and timing of the intake for each individual. And using this personalization approach, we can improve the efficacy of the therapeutic treatments.”

The watch works by stimulating sweat glands in the underlying skin through an electric current. The device can then analyze the sweat and can identify the electrochemical signature of specific drugs using a voltammetric sensing interface. The result is real-time continuous measurement of drug levels.

“This technology is a game-changer and a significant step forward for realizing personalized medicine,” said Ronald W. Davis, another researcher involved in the study. “Emerging pharmacogenomic solutions, which allow us to select drugs based on the genetic makeup of individuals, have already shown to be useful in improving the efficacy of treatments. So, in combination with our wearable solution, which helps us to optimize the drug dosages for each individual, we can now truly personalize our approaches to pharmacotherapy.”