At the moment, medicine and healthcare are still rooted in one size fit all approach. Apart from patients’ age and weight, there is no other sophisticated differentiator to underline the kind of drugs and dosage that a person should take after diagnoses to ensure their treatment regimens are appropriate and efficient.

Likewise, medications are manufactured and designed based on statistical effectiveness, not receptiveness of respective individuals. However, our body chemistry is dynamic; it changes based on our food consumption and activity levels. Individuals’ genetic makeup also affects our response to medications; particularly the rate of absorptions, the length of effectiveness, whether it will be naturally eliminated, and so on.

Using technology to change the one size fit all approach

Engineers at the Interconnected & Integrated Bioelectronic Lab (I2BL) at the University of California, Los Angeles and the Stanford School of Medical researchers are trying to change the way things are being done. They are partnering to track, in real-time, drug levels in patients’ bodies via a tailored smartwatch which measures the amount of chemicals found in a person’s perspirations.

According to the research team, patients have to undergo repeated blood tests at the hospital to achieve personalization of drug dosage. The process is not only causing unnecessary discomfort and inconvenience to patients but it’s also time-consuming and costly. This is probably why personalized therapy is still regarded as a niche. This motivates the team to devise a new technique which can trace the profile of medications inside patients’ bodies continuously and in a non-invasive manner.

Most medications will end up in on perspirations because of their small molecule sizes. Thus, measuring their concentrations in sweat will reflect the drugs’ circulating levels. To do so, the research team created a special smartwatch with sensors that will analyze perspiration samples. They tested the device on acetaminophen, a common over-the-counter pain killer.

Encompassing wearable technology into personalized medicine

Participants were asked to take the drug while researchers stimulate their sweat glands on the wrist by applying a small electric current. This will allow researchers to detect changes in body chemistry without requiring the participants to perspire naturally by exercising. As different medications have their own unique electrochemical signature, the sensor found on the tailored smartwatch could also be designed to look for different types of medication at any given time.

Related findings were published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research team believes their work shed light on the potential of encompassing wearable technology into personalized medicine; by having a particular medication or dosage customized for a patient after analyzing the real-time feedback. This is especially so since emerging pharmacogenomic solutions, which permit the customizing medications based on an individual’s genetic makeup has proved to be fruitful in improving efficacies of the treatment regimens.

What makes the research finding special is the smartwatch’s ability to detect unique electrochemical signals from each medication, against the backdrop of so many other signals and noises emerged from other molecules that are also circulating in patients’ bodies. This means the technology can possibly be adapted to monitor medication adherence and drug abuse.

This will be useful for physicians to monitor patients who are taking particular medications over a prolong period of time to find out how the medication is doing in the patient.


Author Bio

Hazel Tang A science writer with data background and an interest in the current affair, culture, and arts; a no-med from an (almost) all-med family. Follow on Twitter.