A portable physician on your skin? UChicago doctors unveil glimpse of future medicine


It’s all about wearables – from smartwatches to smart sensors that track our vital signs. But a local team of scientists is taking health tech deeper inside the body with a device that acts like a human brain. 

Imagine wearing a sticker on your skin all the time. 

Dr. Sihong Wang and his colleagues can. 

“This is a computing chip that functions in a similar way as our brain,” Wang said.  

But it’s even smarter. 

 “It’s very soft and stretchy, so it can maintain its function,” Wang said.  

The wearable system integrates seamlessly with the skin to not only monitor your personal health but ultimately will diagnose an ailment and deliver medication or intervention. 

“The AI chip is functioning as a doctor to look at the data first diagnose the disease and give you a prescription,” Wang said.  

What’s called a neuromorphic chip, made at the University of Chicago lab, is loaded with the intelligence of a medical team. It’s been wired – or taught – through machine learning. It collects your health information as its worn on the wrist, then quickly analyzes the data, a process all localized inside the single unit. 

“For the chip, we basically try to get inspiration, try to mimic the nervous system process functions in the brain. What we want to create is a wearable mini-clinics that can serve as a quick doctor diagnosis,” Wang said.  

The team is already training the system to recognize different electrical signals in the heart. And they hope to expand its use, Wang says. 

“What if we can have something that can help a patient, especially an elderly who have the risk of high blood pressure to monitor the blood pressure continuously?” he asked. “Like a release sends some drug to control the blood pressure. I think that will really save a lot of patients.” 

Enthusiasm for the project is bubbling over in the lab. 

“For the patients with cancer, when they start to notice the system, it could be already in the late stage of the cancer, but if you have something that could monitor cancer markers in a non-invasive way and continuous way like from sweat, that is our dream,” Wang said. “That is what we are working very hard towards.” 

The U of C team is collaborating with Argonne National Laboratory scientists. They’ve been testing their first-generation device and hope to have a working product in five years.  

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