Connect with us


North Texas researchers develop device that can detect one of COVID’s most serious symptoms



PLANO, TX – For some time now, medical professionals have known there is a wealth of information contained with a drop of a patient’s sweat. Now, a collaboration of North Texas biomedical researchers has developed a device that can warn doctors of one of the most fatal symptoms of COVID-19.

A group of UT Dallas researchers, led by Shalini Prasad, alongside the team at Allen-based medical sensor device company EnLiSense – which was founded by Prasad to commercialize another product – have unveiled a sweat sensor that can alert doctors of a looming cytokine storm.

Cytokine storm became part of the pandemic lexicon at the early stages of the crisis, as doctors found COVID-19 often presented this symptom in some of the sickest, most high-risk patients. Cytokines are part of the body’s normal immune system response to infections, signaling to other parts of the system to begin fighting the infection. However, in a “storm,” too many of those pro-inflammatory proteins are released and attack the patient’s own body.

The new sensor device, which was funded in part by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority DRIVe program, as well as EnLiSense. Called the SWEATSENSER Dx, the device uses electrodes and an antibody coating to detect when cytokines are being released. The information is uploaded and monitored via a smartphone app.

“Especially now in the context of COVID-19, if you could monitor pro-inflammatory cytokines and see them trending upwards, you could treat patients early, even before they develop symptoms,” Prasad said.

While cytokines can be detected via blood, the SWEATSENSER Dx allows patients to be monitored in real-time continuously for up to nearly 170 hours, rather than acting as a single quick snapshot.

The technology was initially developed at UT Dallas’ Biomedical Microdevices and Nanotechnology Lab, where Prasad acts as director by her and doctoral candidate Ambalika Tanak as they were looking for ways to detect flare-ups of inflammatory bowel disease via biomarkers in a patient’s sweat. Since, at its core, the device is able to detect inflammatory responses in the immune system, the researchers say it has potential applications in other diseases like influenza, especially because it can be easily applied to different parts of the body.

EnLiSense, and its UT Dallas research partners, are eyeing clinical trials of the technology. However, they note that due to the difficulties of access to COVID-19 patients, they will be testing on patients with a wide array of respiratory infections.

“Access to COVID-19 patients has been a challenge because healthcare workers are overwhelmed and don’t have time to test investigational devices,” Prasad said in a statement. “But we’re going to continue to test it for all respiratory infections because the disease trigger itself doesn’t matter –– it’s what’s happening with the cytokines that we’re interested in monitoring.”