A caring female nurse helps a senior woman on hospice care. The nurse is checking the patient's pulse. An IV drip is in the foreground.
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A new ultralightweight medical device that attaches to the chest may detect early signs of heart disease in patients. 

Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin have developed the device, known as an electronic tattoo or e-tattoo, which attaches to the chest and can be used for continuous heart monitoring outside of clinical settings. It is equipped with sensors that monitor patient heart activity and can detect early red flags for heart disease. 

“Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death globally,” researchers wrote in the study abstract. ”Noninvasive, accurate and continuous cardiovascular monitoring can enable the preemptive detection of heart diseases and timely intervention to prevent serious cardiac complications.”

The device weighs a miniscule 2.5 grams, and runs on a battery the size of a penny. Heart activity can be measured using mobile devices such as the Apple Watch. 

The researchers have so far tested the device on five healthy subjects in their everyday environments and found measurements to be comparable to standard heart monitoring apparatus found in in-patient settings. They plan to conduct further testing to validate their results on more and different types of patients but say early results are promising. 

“Our work manifests that chest e-tattoos have the potential to eventually become a medical-grade, long-term, ambulatory cardiovascular monitoring tool,” the researchers wrote.

The ability to monitor heart activity has significant potential benefits for monitoring of heart patients at home or in non-hospital settings, such as long-term care, researchers said. 

“If we can have continuous, mobile monitoring at home, then we can do early diagnosis and treatment, and if that can be done, 80% of heart disease can be prevented,” Nanshu Lu, PhD, a professor in the Department of Aerospace and Engineering Mechanics and a lead author of the study, said in a news release

The project was made possible through a 2021 grant from the National Science Foundation ASCENT program. 

Lu and his team have also been studying the use of the electronic tattoo technology for monitoring other health conditions, such as pneumonia. Using deep machine learning techniques, Lu’s team will develop algorithms that can predict the progression of pneumonia using historical data and will test the effectiveness of the device on pneumonia patients during clinical trials. 

The study was published in the Advanced Electronics Materials journal.