Biomarkers in human sweat can contain useful information about the physiological state of a person. Currently, however, this information is rarely used. The WeCare project, that recently received a SNSF Sinergia grant, explores how biomarkers in sweat can be used to optimize physical exercise. We talked with Prof. Shih-Chii Liu, project coordinator and professor at the Institute of Neuroinformatics (INI), about the project.
ZNZ News: What is the goal of the WeCare project?
Prof. Shih-Chii Liu: The WeCare project is a new project in which we develop biomonitoring tools for sweat analysis. The goal is to use these tools to develop customized treatment and workout plans for athletes. Sweat contains a large number of biomarkers and we want to link their changes in concentration during exercise to characteristics and physiological states of individuals.
Can you tell us more about the tools you are developing?
We will develop a fully integrated non-invasive biomedical patch technology that can be placed on the athlete’s skin to analyze sweat. A subject’s sweat will be continuously collected, biomarkers will be measured with multiple sensors and data processed to provide in-situ analysis of the body fluid. The information will be transmitted to a mobile device, e.g. a smartphone, where a friendly interface will show the state of the athlete in situ and in real time. The WeCare platform will be validated for use in real sport scenarios requiring the discrimination of relevant biomarkers in sweat.
Which biomarkers will be measured?
Identifying biomarkers of interest for sports is a part of this project. We will focus on the common electrolytes (Na, K, Cl), lactate and glucose, which are well-known in clinical medicine, but other biomarkers will also be studied. These biomarkers have potential roles for the monitoring of hydration, nutrition and fatigue during exercise. We expect them to be present in sweat at very low levels, meaning that we need a very sensitive device and good algorithms to monitor biomarker levels.
How will the biomedical patch technology be used in future?
The wearable system will allow new, and up to now impossible, studies of how the dynamically changing biomarker concentrations in sweat can be correlated with the physiological states of individuals. This way, we can create individualized health platforms that directly address the enormous complexity of biological differences between users and physiological conditions. These data can then be used for health monitoring, performance improvement and injury prevention during physical exercise.
How does the Sinergia grant support this project?
With the Sinergia grants, the SNSF promotes the interdisciplinary collaboration of two to four research groups that propose breakthrough research. We are extremely happy we received the grant for this project; as without it the project would not have been possible. With the funding of CHF 2.2 million for a period of 4 years, it covers the students and postdocs salaries, and the expenses for the technological development of the system.
Which groups participate?
The soft transducers lab of the ETH Lausanne (EPFL-LMTS), with its expertise on soft and printed sensing systems and hybrid integration, and the Institute of Microelectronics of Barcelona IMB-CNM (IMB-CSIC), with its expertise on electrochemical sensors and micro-fluidics, will work together to develop the sensing patch and data module. The clinicians at the University Hospital Lausanne (CHUV) will test the device on athletes to check proper operation of the system and collect user feedback needed to optimize the device. We, of the Sensors group at INI, will develop online data analysis methods through deep learning models that integrate data from multiple chemical sensors. These methods will enable us to create models for inter and intra-group characterization of physiological states.