Current practices measure body hydration by looking at short-term weight changes or laboratory measurements of blood and urine. Neither approach is real-time, which makes it impractical for tracking dehydration in military members, athletes, and workers in the field.
Several years ago GE Global Research, the research division of GE, began having conversations with scientists at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).
"They were concerned about problems of dehydration and heat and stress and the risk imposed on special operations training units," Azar Alizadeh, PhD, a principal scientist at GE Global Research, told MD+DI. "These are extremely fit people but the regiments of training is very complex and also long and harsh so they were at risk of dehydration."
From those conversations, the idea of a hydration-tracking sweat patch was born. The patch is a joint project of GE Global Research, Binghamton University, the University of Connecticut, San Jose, CA-based NextFlex, and the AFRL.
"As we have progressed realization that hydration assessment is actually a very complex matter. You have to understand the fluid losses as well as the electrolytes balance so we tried to do both types of those measurements from sweat," Alizadeh said.
The current prototype has a category of sensors dedicated to measuring sweat volume locally, a second category of sensors assessing fluid balance, and a third category of sensors for measuring two different electrolytes, sodium and potassium.
"All three categories of measurements are happening continuously and data is transferred wirelessly to a mobile device," Alizadeh said.
Cadets at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado recently put the device to the test. Eight cadets wore the sweat patches for a day as they tackled various training obstacles, including two 1.5 mile ruck marches during which they carried 45 pounds of gear.
Additional details of this and other trial runs of the device were not disclosed but Alizadeh said she is hopeful that the group will be able to share the results by the end of September.
The patch also will be part of a series of live trials called SweatFactor happening at NextFlex’s San Jose facility in San Jose, CA on Aug. 6. People involved with the project will wear the patch while exercising on treadmills and stationary bikes. Students from Evergreen Valley College, a San Jose, CA-based community college, are also expected to participate.
NextFlex partners also will show off the patch during NextFlex Innovation Day on Aug. 8.