A unique 3D-printed light-sensing medical device could help millions of people worldwide with lupus and other light-sensitive diseases.
The University of Minnesota Twin Cities' engineering and medical teams have created a novel 3D-printed medical device that can provide real-time feedback to link light exposure to disease flare-ups, when placed directly on the skin.
According to the study, the device could benefit millions of patients with lupus and other light-sensitive disorders by giving them access to more individualized treatments and knowledge of what causes their symptoms, the device.
"I treat a lot of patients with lupus or related diseases, and clinically, it is challenging to predict when patients’ symptoms are going to flare," University of Minnesota Medical School dermatologist and co-author of the study David Pearson said in a statement.
"We know that ultraviolet light and, in some cases visible light, can cause flares of symptoms—both on their skin, as well as internally—but we don't always know what combinations of light wavelengths are contributing to the symptoms," he continued.
What is lupus?
Lupus, or Systemic Lupus Erythematosus is an autoimmune rheumatic disease that affects many organs in the body. It is characterized by a red rash in the form of a butterfly on the face.
According to the Lupus Foundation of America, about 1.5 million Americans, and at least 5 million people worldwide, have a form of lupus.
Lupus patients frequently have light sensitivity, with 40 to 70 percent of them reporting that exposure to natural or artificial light indoors worsens their condition. Lupus sufferers may experience rashes, exhaustion, and joint discomfort during these flare-ups.
A collaboration to help patients
According to the release, Pearson had learnt about the customized 3D-printing of wearable devices developed by University of Minnesota mechanical engineering professor Michael McAlpine and his team. He contacted McAlpine to collaborate on finding a solution for his problem.
Their collaboration created the first-of-its-kind fully 3D-printed device with a flexible UV-visible light detector that could be placed on the skin.
Systemic lupus erythematosus.
The system is connected with a specially designed portable console to track and link symptoms to light exposure continually.
“This research builds upon our previous work where we developed a fully 3D printed light-emitting device, but this time instead of emitting light, it is receiving light,” said McAlpine, a co-author of the study and Kuhrmeyer Family Chair Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. “The light is converted to electrical signals to measure it, which in the future can then be correlated with the patient’s symptoms flare ups.”
The research team has received approval to start using humans as test subjects for the device, and will shortly start enrolling individuals for the study.
“We know these devices work in the lab, but our next step is really to put them into the hands of patients to see how they work in real life,” Pearson said. “We can give them to participants and track what light they were exposed to and determine how we can predict symptoms. We will also continue testing in the lab to improve the device.”
“The dream would be to have one of these 3D printers right in my office. I could see a patient and assess what light wavelengths we want to evaluate," he added.
Photodetectors that are intimately interfaced with human skin and measure real-time optical irradiance are appealing in the medical profiling of photosensitive diseases. Developing compliant devices for this purpose requires the fabrication of photodetectors with ultraviolet (UV)-enhanced broadband photoresponse and high mechanical flexibility, to ensure precise irradiance measurements across the spectral band critical to dermatological health when directly applied onto curved skin surfaces. Here, a fully 3D printed flexible UV-visible photodetector array is reported that incorporates a hybrid organic-inorganic material system and is integrated with a custom-built portable console to continuously monitor broadband irradiance in-situ. The active materials are formulated by doping polymeric photoactive materials with zinc oxide nanoparticles in order to improve the UV photoresponse and trigger a photomultiplication (PM) effect. The ability of a stand-alone skin-interfaced light intensity monitoring system to detect natural irradiance within the wavelength range of 310–650 nm for nearly 24 h is demonstrated.