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No More Needles: A Crazy New Patch Will Constantly Monitor Your Blood

Imagine if you could always know if your glucose was low or if you were dehydrated. A new painless patch will soon send your vital signs wirelessly to your phone, giving you constant analytics on your health.

If you enjoy getting your blood drawn, you can stop reading now (and go get your head checked). But for everyone else, Sano Intelligence is working on a product that might be for you: a small patch, no bigger a nicotine patch, that continuously monitors your bloodstream, looking out for abnormalities and alerting you and your doctor when they arise. The company calls it "an API for the bloodstream."

Sano, a part of Rock Health's 2012 class of health startups, is the ultimate dream of quantified self-ers who track every detail of their lives. The needle-less, sensor-laden transdermal patch is painless (I handled a prototype, which felt like sandpaper on the skin) and will soon be able to monitor everything you might find on a basic metabolic panel—a blood panel that measures glucose levels, kidney function, and electrolyte balance.

Already, Sano’s prototype can measure glucose and potassium levels. There are enough probes on the wireless, battery-powered chip to continuously test up to a hundred different samples, and 30% to 40% of today’s blood diagnostics are compatible with the device. It’s cheap, too, with a materials cost of just $1 or $2 per sensor (each sensor has a seven day lifespan) thanks to an efficient manufacturing process that’s similar to what’s currently used to make semiconductor chips. The device isn’t waterproof yet, but Sano is working on it.

It’s not a stretch to imagine, then, the day when you might use Sano’s patch to watch your glucose levels spike after eating a sugary food, or receive a warning on your smartphone when your electrolytes are dipping too low.

Consider the implications for clinical trials, which only test participants periodically. Now imagine the kind of data—perhaps even leading to new drug treatments—that could be achieved by monitoring participants continuously. Doctors could also use the patch on patients with chronic disease. If they detect problems before they become a big deal, doctors could save patients from having to come into the office, or even taking a trip to the hospital.

Could the patch one day put clinical lab networks like LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics out of business? "If you look at the legacy leaders, we’re thankful to them, but want to push to find out more," says Sano Co-Founder Raj Gokal.

Sano is currently gearing up for a pilot study with a major research-focused medical institution. The patch could be ready for release by the middle of next year.

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