Northwestern developing patch to monitor health through sweat

CHICAGO (Fox 32 News) - A revolutionary new device developed at Northwestern University is already drawing attention from the Cubs, the Bears and the Air Force.

It's a small patch that monitors sweat to help athletes track their workouts, and someday, it could help doctors diagnose cystic fibrosis, diabetes and other deadly diseases.

Justin Hanson is a star athlete on Northwestern's swim team. But when he's not in the pool, you can find him in the John Rogers Engineering Lab. It's all thanks to a tiny patch and researcher Jonathan Reeder.

“I emailed the coach and said - hey, you know, we have a research project here at NW, we just need some people to try it on,” Reeder said.

“I was at a swim practice, he asked if I could help test this device,” Hanson said.

Hanson tried it out and was impressed.

“I thought it was amazing, what it could tell you,” he said. “After testing the device, I became super interested and I asked Jonathan if I could join the research lab and actually become involved in the making of the device.”

So now, Hanson works alongside Reeder on these tiny patches -- all centered around one thing.

“We've turned our attention to sweat,” said John Rogers.

Rogers is the pioneer behind the patch.

“It's essentially like a sticker - you apply it to the surface of your skin,” Rogers said.

So here's how it works: Rogers says the panels in the patch fill up as you sweat and the rate in which those colors change show how hydrated you are.

“You see immediately how much sweat you've lost,” Rogers said.

He and his team have created quarter-sized, flexible devices.

“You can think of it as a next, next generation wearable, in a sense. Instead of measuring step count, you're measuring sweat loss,” Rogers said.

And he says a version for the public will be available later this year, especially useful for swimmers like Hanson.

“This is something that you can use to, you know, remind yourself, you know, you look down at your arm, and you can see, wow, I've been sweating a lot, I may be need to hydrate a lot more while I'm doing this high-intensity workout,” Hanson said.

And the uses don't stop at athletes. Rogers says trials have started with the patches for uses in diabetes, cystic fibrosis and stroke patients.

“We're quite optimistic about the prospects,” Rogers said.