Ultra thin skin that reads oxygen levels
Scientists in Japan have created an electronic skin using a flexible film that can monitor the body's oxygen levels.The University of Tokyo, Someya Group

An ultra-thin electronic "skin" that can measure oxygen levels when stuck to the human body has been developed by Japanese scientists. The team from the University of Tokyo are now hoping it could be attached to organs during and after surgery.

"The device unobtrusively measures oxygen concentration of blood when laminated on a finger," they wrote in the peer-reviewed Science Advances journal. Once it's on the skin they added that "seven-segment digital displays can visualise data directly on the body".

The device, which is "one order of magnitude thinner than the epidermal layer of human skin", contains microelectronic components that light up in red, blue and green on the surface of the body. Tests showed the devices could then last for several days when attached.

"Ultimately, flexible organic optical sensors may be directly laminated on organs to monitor the blood oxygen level during and after surgery," they said.

The "ultra-flexible, organic, photonic skin" stretches out over the skin like a "thin film" which helps to "minimise the stress and discomfort" because of their "conformability and softness", said lead researcher Tomoyuki Yokota and colleagues.

Medical wearables

For industrial applications they added that it was important to create something that was effective but minimized cost. The technology could also be used to generate a new generation of sensors that monitor the oxygen levels in athletes.

This kind of "optoelectronic" device is especially important in medicine because they can non-invasively detect vital signs and other clinical information, they said.

The development is the latest in wearable electronics, which is considered a future growth area for medical research. Scientists are developing smart glasses and contact lenses that can monitor glucose levels.

The Japanese team said similar devices could be used to measure pulse rate, but ultimately they hope to produce detailed LED screens that could replace mobile phones.

"While these communication tools are getting smaller and smaller, they are still discrete devices that we have to carry with us," said one of the researchers, Professor Takao Someya. "What would the world be like if we had displays that could adhere to our bodies and even show our emotions or level of stress or unease… they might enhance the way we interact with those around us or add a whole new dimension to how we communicate."