Skin Patch Aims to Help Athletes Detect Dehydration

Posted: Updated:
The patch's "fingers" change sequentially from blue to red to indicate the progression of moisture loss. The patch's "fingers" change sequentially from blue to red to indicate the progression of moisture loss.

Organizers of some of sports’ most elite events are anxiously awaiting a Purdue University professor’s invention. The medical directors of IRONMAN, the Boston Marathon and the Olympic Triathlon have all expressed interest in Dr. Babak Ziaie’s skin patch that monitors hydration levels by changing color—helping protect against dehydration. Noting that conventional monitoring methods are invasive and impractical during athletic events, Ziaie believes the skin patch will appeal to the masses.

“We’ve been bombarded by requests from people to get their hands on this—from the U.S., Philippines, Taiwan and Indonesia. A lot of these folks are athletic directors at universities,” says Ziaie, a professor of biomedical engineering and electrical and computer engineering. “They want to monitor the athletes and improve their performance, get more quantitative information out of the hydration level and correlate that with their performance.”

Ziaie says being just 2 percent from normal hydration levels can affect a person’s cognitive and physical performance by more than 30 percent.

“Coaches who are working with athletes are very interested,” says Ziaie. “They want to optimize the performance of these athletes. Initially, you wouldn’t see this at the gym with the average person wearing it.”

Hydration is typically monitored by weighing a person before and after exercising or measuring urine density. Ziaie says a major benefit of the skin patch is that it provides real-time visual feedback. About the size of the palm of the hand, the patch can be worn on the upper arm, for example.

It’s comprised of a special moisture-wicking paper commonly used in laboratories sandwiched between two layers of medical adhesive. A hole in the center exposes the paper to the skin and allows sweat to be absorbed. A dozen strips extend from the center, each loaded with water-activated dye at the tip.

“All you have to do is look at the fingers that spiral from center,” says Ziaie. “As you start sweating and losing water, the shortest finger changes color first, then progresses to the longer fingers and continues changing color until the whole patch is full of sweat.”

Ziaie’s team is now working on correlating that visual input with actionable information; the group is creating a database to help learn how to “calibrate” the patch to each individual user and their unique hydration needs.

“So the athlete knows, ‘when this gets to the fourth marker, I should drink,’” says Ziaie. “There’s a lot of data processing on the back end, which is also exciting for us, because we think that gives us an edge. Analytics and data are very important these days…we think there’s a lot of new information that might be hidden out there that we can extract.”

Ziaie believes several factors will help the skin patch have a speedy path to market. Among them, the device will not need approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, because it aims to only improve athletic performance, not provide medical information. Ziaie likens the patch’s informational output to the Fitbit, which gives fitness feedback to the user.

The patch could also be scaled up easily, says Ziaie, “using the way they make BAND-AIDs, basically.” The team has manufactured prototypes of the patch using Purdue facilities, and Ziaie believes it could be mass-produced “for a couple pennies each.”

Rather than licensing the technology, the team plans to launch a small startup in the coming weeks to commercialize the patch. Ziaie is aiming to use local resources or grants to move the product to market, such as Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding from the National Institutes of Health.

“Our goal right now is to have more people use this and give us feedback about what they want to see and what we should change,” says Ziaie. “It’s an exciting, simple and scalable technology. We’re excited about getting these in the hands of the end-users and providing a low-cost technique to improve their athletic performance.”

Ziaie says, although the device is simple, it involves a large amount of “post-processing.”
Ziaie says a final hurdle to commercializing the device is creating a database that will translate into “actionable information.”
  • Perspectives

    • (photo courtesy of Conexus)

      Getting the Word Out About Manufacturing & Logistics

      As the epicenter of the nation’s advanced manufacturing and logistics industries, Indiana has a compelling story to tell about how Hoosier companies make and move the goods people depend on every day. Our goal is to ensure everyone hears these stories – many of which share a common theme focused on cutting-edge technologies that are transforming the way products are made and moved around the world and the people who use them. Conexus Indiana launched an...

    More

Events



  • Most Popular Stories

    • The Kelley School of Business at IU Bloomington is the highest-ranked program in Indiana. (Provided Photo/Indiana University)

      Three Indiana Business Schools Score High Marks

      If your high school student or still “undecided” college student is considering a degree in business, the state of Indiana seems to be a good place to be, and without having to pay out-of-state tuition. Forbes magazine has released its annual listing of The Best Business Schools, specifically those with full-time, residential, M.B.A programs.  

    • (photo courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana)

      Valpo Mansion May Fall to Wrecking Ball

      A one-time mansion that once hosted dignitaries and politicians while they visited Valparaiso appears to be facing demolition, following years of decline and disrepair.  The stately mansion, known locally as the Brown home, maybe knocked down and replaced with condominiums, according to our partners at The Times of Northwest Indiana. 

    • (Inside INdiana Business Photo/Mary-Rachel Redman)

      Merchants Bank Marks Opening of Carmel HQ

      Carmel-based Merchants Bancorp (Nasdaq: MBIN) has cut the ribbon on its $25 million headquarters in the city's Midtown. In addition to housing the executive offices and mortgage operations of the bank, the five-story, 120,000-square-foot building also includes 8,000 square feet of retail space and 24,000 square feet of leasable office space. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Mike Petrie says the design of the building "reinvigorates" the bank's mission to...

    • (original artist rendering of Merchant's Bancorp HQ) of Carmel)

      Merchants Bancorp to Celebrate New HQ

      Carmel-based Merchants Bancorp (Nasdaq: MBIN) is celebrating Friday the grand opening of its new headquarters. The company says the HQ represents its commitment to long-term and sustainable growth. 

    • The Honda Greensburg plant opened in 2008.

      Honda to Invest $4M, Add Jobs at Greensburg Plant

      The American Honda Motor Co. continues to invest in its Greensburg, Indiana plant as it has announced the factory will be producing the company’s first electrified sport utility vehicle in the U.S. The company says it will invest more than $4 million and add 34 new jobs in the plant to support production of the CR-V Hybrid.