Blood, Sweat and Biosensors: Engineering the Future of Personalized Healthcare

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Graduate student Isabella Yang engineers wearable biosensors that may lead to faster, more personalized healthcare for people living with diabetes and other health risks.

Yiran Isabella Yang

October 4, 2018

Isabella Yang is a second-year graduate student in the Medical Engineering department within Caltech's division of Engineering and Applied Sciences. She is a member of Professor Wei Gao’s research group where she works on the development of medical devices through investigating the integration of electronics and biology. A particular reason for her interest in engineering medical devices stems the ability to isolate certain variables, adjust, and progress: “when you’re making instruments you have more opportunities to troubleshoot based on controlled data”, Isabella explains.

 

One area of the Gao group’s research is centered around creating sensors with microscale patterns on flexible substrates such as PET (polymer resin) films. These flexible films are electrochemically modified to function as sensors. From there they can be applied directly onto human skin to monitor and evaluate perspiration. The sweat we produce contains various chemicals from which we can glean information about our health. For instance, the Gao group is targeting specific levels in sweat such as sodium, pH, glucose and proteins. Sweat glucose levels are correlated with blood glucose levels, therefore diabetic management can be potentially achieved by sweat glucose monitoring without requiring a finger-pricked blood sample. Through applications and experimentation, the group hopes to develop wearable devices that will enable faster diagnostics for both patients and healthcare providers. In the future innovative devices like Gao’s wearable biosensors (below) will play a critical role in more effective personalized healthcare treatments.

 

Yang joined the KNI nanofabrication cleanroom in order to facilitate her graduate research projects. With help she’s received from the technical staff in the KNI Isabella has been able to quickly learn how to operate the necessary tools for engineering complex flexible substrates. From the ebeam evaporator to the III-V metal etcher and the field emission SEM, Yang and her colleagues can carry out multiple patterning and characterization steps of their research process all within the same facility. As both a KNI lab member and graduate student at Caltech, Isabella has observed firsthand how hard-working everyone is on campus.

 

Yang received her B.S. in bioengineering at Rice University where she studied hardware for optical systems. After she completes her PhD at Caltech, Isabella plans to pursue an R&D position in the healthcare industry or with a medical device company where she can continue pushing the boundaries of medical engineering.

wearable biosensor
Wearable Sweat Biosensors for Personalized Medicine (credit: Gao Research Group)