Researchers at the University of Texas and EnLiSense, a Texas startup, has developed a skin sweat sensor that can measure cytokine levels continuously for up to 168 hours. The technology has been adapted so that it can detect cytokines involved in the deadly cytokine storms that occur in patients with COVID-19 and other diseases, such as the flu. Researchers hope it can serve as an early warning system for an impending storm, allowing for early treatment.
Cytokine storms involve a massive release of proinflammatory cytokines, leading to intense inflammation that can cause significant organ damage, sometimes leading to death. It can occur in severe cases of COVID-19, so methods to predict an impending storm would be very helpful for doctors. Early treatment with anti-inflammatory drugs can help save a patient’s life.
“Especially now in the context of COVID-19, if you could control proinflammatory cytokines and see them on the rise, you could treat patients early, even before they develop symptoms,” says researcher Shalini Prasad. involved in the study.
One option is to do a blood test to see if cytokine levels increase, but this is not convenient and only provides a snapshot. Continuous measurement is preferable and these researchers have shown that sweat detection can be a viable alternative.
The researchers adapted a previous sweat sensor they had developed to detect cytokines involved in inflammatory bowel disease. It consists of a strip of sensors where passive sweat spreads. The strip contains two electrodes and is charged with antibodies against the cytokines of interest. When cytokines connect, they change the electric current flowing through the device and it is measured and transmitted wirelessly to a smartphone.
The current sensor measures seven different cytokines that are relevant to cytokine storms. These are interleukin-6, -8, and -10, tumor necrosis factor-α, apoptosis-inducing ligand related to tumor necrosis factor, interferon-γ-induced protein-10, and C-reactive protein.
Researchers have tested the device on a small number of volunteers, but ultimately want to test it with COVID-19 patients. “Access to COVID-19 patients has been a challenge because healthcare workers are overwhelmed and do not have time to test research devices,” Prasad said. “But we will continue to test it to detect all respiratory infections, as the trigger of the disease doesn’t matter; it’s what’s happening with the cytokines we’re interested in controlling.”
Watch a video about the technology below:
The research was presented at spring meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS)