Graphene and wearable devices are probably two of the hottest markets when it comes to personal health. According to Cision and Statista, the Graphene market is planned to reach $1.5 billion in 2025. It might not seem like a lot compared to the $65 billion of the wearables, but considering that this material was only discovered in 2004, this is a massive growth.
What is Graphene?
At first, let’s define what Graphene is and why it is regarded as a super-material. In a nutshell, Graphene is just a single layer of Graphite made of carbon atoms organized in hexagons in the way honeycombs are. This spacial atomic organization gives Graphene its amazing strongness properties. Graphene is the most robust material on earth and is even stronger than diamond. But it doesn’t end here. Graphene is also flexible, transparent, highly conductive, and impermeable to gases and liquids. Does-it seem like a miracle substance? It is and fully justifies the Nobel prize awarded to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, who first isolated it at the University of Manchester.
According to Statista, these are 500 billion devices that will be connected by 2025, and the market of wearable devices will reach $75 billion, including $25 billion for medical wearables only.
Use of wearables in healthcare?
Wearables can be divided into two main groups: wearable computers and smart textiles. Wearable health devices allow acquiring vital signs during daily activities enabling to monitor the individuals better. Healthcare wearables devices can freely and continuously monitor the respiration rate, oxygen saturation, measure the heart rate, and soon will be able to detect infection or monitor the glucose level.
Wearable Health Devices (WHD) can also be classified according to where they are used, what they monitor, and by whom they are used. According to this classification, WHD falls into the activity monitoring sphere or the medical sphere divided into the prediction, anomaly detection, or diagnosis support.
Benefits of Graphene
For WHDs, Graphene’s high sensitivity, working range, flexibility, and low cost has significant advantages over more traditional materials in making flexible wearables over conventional materials.
Integration of Graphene in sensors has a wide range of medical applications, will it be as non-invasive or invasive sensors. Its potential toxicity is somehow one of the critical points to address. The biocompatibility of Graphene-Based Nanomaterials (GBN) has received considerable attention. So far, the precise toxicity of GBNs can not be precisely assessed. When considering that the materials can be implanted, it is thus of primary importance to know more. A way to circumvent these potential risks is to use hybrid materials and to combine the carbone atoms layer with biocompatible polymers or biocompatible polysaccharides.
Wellness trackers are mostly based on the use of rigid optical sensors through photoplethysmography (PPG). To accurately monitor vital signs, the use of wearables based on graphene sensitized with semiconducting quantum dots are especially promising when considering their flexible and low power consumption. These health patches can operate battery-free using a flexible UV patch. Near Field Communication circuit board allows real-time wireless transfer via mobile phones.
The skin is the primary human window to assess the health status of the individuals in a non-invasive way. Graphene flexible patches can conform to any surface, improve the accuracy of the data, and increase comfort for the users.
A single layer of carbon atoms may look as simple, but its biomedical application have huge potentials will it be to monitor the health of the wearer or as a mean to carry drugs.
Future of research
In Europe, the Graphene Flagship is a consortium of over 150 research groups located in 21 countries partnering on 31 projects. The European Union has committed 1 billion euros. Biomedical technologies deal with biosensors, neural interfaces, drug delivery, and bioelectric medicine. The Institute for Photonic Sciences (IFCO) is part of the consortium and is based in Barcelona. They recently presented a flexible and disposable patch acting as a UV index sensor that sends an alert to a smartphone once the sun exposure threshold has been reached. One of their projects is a fitness band that measures Oxygen Saturation levels, heart rhythm, respiration rate, and temperature.
With its unique properties, Graphene has the potential to revolutionize the healthcare wearable market.