Sweat is the most abundant biofluid that is rich in essential substances used for bioanalysis, and it holds valuable insights into the physiological processes occurring within the human body, including many diseases, ailments, and conditions. The problem is that current methods of biofluid testing are time-consuming, invasive, and costly, thus rendering them impractical for regular use by the general population. But now the National Science Foundation (NSF) is funding research by Assistant Professor Dmitry Kireev of the UMass Amherst Biomedical Engineering Department to fix this problem with user-friendly devices called “graphene tattoos” for the general population to monitor sweat. 

Kireev’s monitoring technology is based on these graphene tattoos. Basically, graphene tattoos are temporary stickers that can function as wearable electronic devices to monitor sweat for a large variety of biomolecules within, including cortisol.

The NSF has issued a two-year, $199,991 grant to Kireev to research his trailblazing technology that serves as a personal sweat-biosensing platform. Kireev’s proof-of-concept device will be designed for the continuous self-monitoring of sweat to target cortisol as a vital biomarker. Yet the technology will also be multimodal and later can target various biomolecules, cytokines, and viruses. 

As Kireev explains, his groundbreaking device “could be pivotal for future personalized healthcare.”

Why is Kireev targeting cortisol? It is a biomarker associated with critical conditions such as stress, stroke, Cushing's syndrome, and Addison's disease.However, despite cortisol’s significance, existing technologies fail to support the regular monitoring of cortisol in sweat or other biofluids, especially in non-clinical, on-demand settings. 

Therefore, as Kireev explains, “There is a compelling need to develop a novel modality that allows for superficial and user-friendly monitoring of the chemical composition of sweat, facilitating daily use by ordinary individuals.”

That “compelling need” is the object of Kireev’s NSF project. Kireev and his colleagues propose to leverage his graphene tattoos by functionalizing them as transistors directly via the skin. According to Kireev, “The [graphene tattoos] are composed of high-quality, large-scale graphene that is transferred onto tattoo paper, resulting in an electronic device that is applied onto skin like a temporary tattoo.”

Kireev expects these electronic tattoos to be self-administered, allowing for non-clinical and on-demand biosensing, leading to frequent and even continuous monitoring of sweat “bioanalytes,” or substances used for bioanalysis. 

“Beyond the task of frequent analyte monitoring,” says Kireev, “the technology holds the potential to improve disease prognosis and prevention methodologies by tracking the individual’s behavior and associating it with the risk factors of common diseases.”

At UMass Amherst, Kireev heads the 2D Bioelectronics Lab at the interface of biomedical engineering, electrical engineering, and 2D materials. His research interests lie mostly in the field of wearable and implantable bioelectronics. Bioelectronics range from applications of graphene and other 2D materials to wearable biosensors, bioelectronics, neuro-electronics, neuronal networks measurements, and in vivo probes, advanced biosensors, biomedical devices, and building next-generation 2D hybrids. (February 2024)

Article posted in Research