Each year, researchers make advances in the medical field which assist with the identification, diagnosis, and treatment of patients with rare conditions. According to Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News, one recent advance in the field of cystic fibrosis (CF) could have huge implications for patients. The new technology? A “sweat sticker,” or an adhesive microfluidic device which attaches to a patient’s skin. Through the “sweat sticker,” doctors and researchers can capture and evaluate sweat. As a result, they can identify elevated chloride levels (which indicate CF) and streamline the diagnostic and treatment processes. Read the full findings in Science Translational Medicine.
Typically, infants and small children have softer skin and may not sweat as much as adult patients. Thus, using sweat to determine a cystic fibrosis diagnosis in the past has been difficult, time-consuming, and sometimes invasive. However, the advent of the “sweat sticker” could provide a less invasive and time-consuming, and more effective, diagnostic option. Once attached to the skin, the stickers collect sweat and analyze chloride levels. In real-time, doctors and scientists can receive this data via a smartphone app. This also allows for patients to be monitored without repetitive doctor visits.
Through research, doctors determined that the sweat sticker was as effective in collecting and analyzing sweat as traditional processes. Altogether, 18 health volunteers and 33 patients with cystic fibrosis enrolled in the study. Ages ranged from 2 months old to 51 years. During the study, researchers determined that the sweat stickers were as effective as prior tests; did not cause discomfort during testing; and did not need any repetitive testing for diagnosis.
Although further studies on this wearable technology are needed, sweat stickers could provide a path to easier diagnosis and earlier treatment. Ultimately, this would assist patients with symptom management and improve quality of life (QOL).
Cystic Fibrosis (CF)
CFTR gene mutations cause cystic fibrosis (CF), a genetic condition which leads to progressive digestive and respiratory system damage. Normally, the CFTR gene helps produce a protein which regulates salt movement throughout the body. As a result, someone without CF has healthy, slippery mucus which allows for bodily processes to proceed as normal. But when this salt movement is interrupted, patients with CF develop thick and sticky mucus which accumulates throughout their system. In addition to preventing digestive enzyme release and nutrient absorption, CF also causes bacteria to be caught in the airways, leading to respiratory distress and damage. CF is most common in Caucasian patients and occurs in 1 in every 2500-3500 American births. Symptoms include:
- Stuffy nose
- Shortness of breath/difficulty breathing
- A persistent wheeze or cough
- Exercise intolerance
- Greasy or foul-smelling stools
- Frequent lung infections
- Poor weight gain
- Salty skin
- Infertility (in males)
- Intestinal blockages (in newborns)