The Nano-Bio Manufacturing Consortium (NBMC) has selected a proposal by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, to develop a wearable sensor patch subsystem as its first project in its mission to develop human performance-monitoring electronics. The project has $450,000 in total funding.
Fifty percent will come from NBMC's U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) funds, and the remaining 50 percent will be contributed by the winning team of UMass Amherst and its industrial partner, GE.
This project, which also includes work done by the University of Cincinnati, focuses on the integration of the most mature system subcomponents in order to provide a deliverable demonstration of a microfluidic subsystem capable of time-gated acquisition of a sweat sample, along with detection of the target biomarker Orexin-A. Orexin-A is a naturally occurring neuropeptide hormone released by the hypothalamus, and plays a crucial role in the stability of arousal and alertness. A wearable paper-based patch incorporating this technology would ideally provide valuable data regarding wearer fatigue.
"This research could have profound implications not only for military use, but for any high-stress job in which alertness and responsiveness are critical," said Scott Miller, Lab Manager for Nanostructures and Surfaces at GE Global Research. "Physical and mental fatigue can be a big issue for those who work as jet pilots, air traffic controllers, fire fighters, heavy-equipment operators, and in many other careers. It's a safety issue, and the earlier we can detect fatigue, the earlier it can be addressed. At GE, we are working to help solve this tough challenge."
Based on assessment of the challenges associated with various sensor options, the project's primary development centers on an interdigitated field effect transistor (FET) sensor. This technology has already demonstrated performance for Orexin-A detection from blood and saliva samples and offers the lowest-risk system integration. The team is also developing, as a close alternative, a radio-frequency (RF) impedance sensor that may offer higher stability and sensitivity.
According to Dr. Benjamin J. Leever, Flexible Materials & Devices Program Manager at AFRL, "Biosensors are of significant interest to the Air Force due to their exceptional sensitivity for a wide variety of molecules and biomarkers, including Orexin-A, which is the focus of the NBMC project led by UMass. Better understanding the underlying mechanisms and maturing the technology could have broad applicability beyond this particular device and could enable new capabilities that strengthen the Air Force."
The project team's technical lead is Dr. James J. Watkins from the UMass Dept. of Polymer Science and Engineering, with GE's Dr. Azar Alizadeh as alternate technical representative and Laura Rea as AFRL program manager. "UMass is known nationally and around the world for its contributions to projects that advance the status of the U.S. as a technological and economic leader," stated Dr. Watkins. "We are proud to partner with GE and the University of Cincinnati to pursue this first project for the NBMC, and look forward to reporting and demonstrating the fruits of our highly experienced team's efforts."
Malcolm Thompson, NBMC's CEO, said, "These first four funded projects, beginning with the work led by UMass, reflect innovative thinking and research methodologies that we believe have the potential to greatly impact efforts to optimize U.S. airmen's safety and effectiveness in the field, as well as to be highly valuable in non-military environments."
The Nano-Bio Manufacturing Consortium (NBMC) was formed by the FlexTech Alliance, for the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). NBMC brings together leading scientists, engineers, and business development professionals from industry and universities to mature an integrated suite of nano-bio manufacturing technologies and transition to industrial manufacturing. To do so, NBMC operates at the confluence of emerging disciplines: nanotechnology, biotechnology, advanced (additive) manufacturing, and flexible electronics. This enables the creation of advanced sensor systems for real-time, remote monitoring of biometrics and body chemistry though biomarker analysis of body fluids for Human Performance and Health Assessment. Visit www.nbmc.org.
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