Scientists create a device that measures blood alcohol content through sweat

University of California at San Diego scientists have invented a wearable microchip that can detect the users blood alcohol content through sweat. The temporary patch is placed on the user's skin and pilocarpine, a sweat inducing drug, is dispersed using electrical currents. The alcohol content level in the sweat is calculated by the patch and the data is sent to the user's phone by Bluetooth. In the near future, these scientists believe the device could be sold to law enforcement, corporations, or for individual use.

Detecting Alcohol Content Through Sweat is More Accurate than Breathalyzer 

Due to time constraints, law enforcement is unable to use blood samples, which is the most accurate method in use, to detect alcohol content. Instead, the most common method among law enforcement is the breathalyzer. Although breathalyzer test are common, test can be inaccurate due to humidity, temperature, and individual traits. 

Since breathalyzers are not calibrated specifically to each person who uses them, not all results are true. There are people who can have a few drinks without alcohol being detected in their breath and vice versa. The use of mouthwash and breath fresheners can also cause an inaccurate reading because of the alcohol vapor in the products.

Professor Joseph Wang, one of the lead scientists in the research of the sensor, believes this technology can help people more than what is already available. "Lots of accidents on the road are caused by drunk driving. This technology provides an accurate, convenient and quick way to monitor alcohol consumption to help prevent people from driving while intoxicated," Wang said.

Study Finds that Blood Tests and Sweat Monitoring for Alcohol Content Show Comparable Results

A study was conducted to determine how accurate testing alcohol content in sweat was compared to testing alcohol content in blood. Forty volunteers were tested for ethanol content in both their blood and sweat. The blood was collected from a puncture on the tip of the finger. The sweat patch monitored the ethanol content in two ways: continuous and single measurement.

The continuous method records the initial ethanol content of the user before any alcohol is consumed. Then, the patch continuously measures the user's levels between 30 minutes and two hours. When the single measurement method is used, sweat is stimulated 15 minutes after the user ingests alcohol. The patch is then placed on the skin with an impermeable membrane separating it from membrane permeable to the ethanol content. Thirty minutes after the user drinks alcohol, the impermeable membrane is removed and the ethanol content in the sweat is allowed to flow through. This allows the sweat to build up to get an accurate answer.

The results of the continuous method mode show that the data from sweat testing reached a maximum ethanol level later than the blood tests. The small difference could be caused by using one patch for multiple hours. Researchers did notice that ethanol levels decreased smoother in sweat than blood.
Graph A shows the results for the sweat monitor in the continuous method mode.
Graph B shows the results for the sweat monitor in the single measurement mode.

The results for the single measurement mode show that the sweat monitoring and blood testing reached the maximum level of ethanol at almost the same time, around 30 minutes after ingestion. This shows researchers that the ethanol that builds up in blood does penetrate through the skin in sweat.

Sweat Patch is the Future in Alcohol Monitoring Due to Non-Invasive Design, Accessibility 

Since the sweat patch is as accurate and it is not as invasive as blood testing, it will more likely be used more frequently to help determine alcohol content. As researchers continue to develop the programming and technology of the patch, they hope to offer a, "low-cost, single-use sensor." 

Advancements in this product can lead to it being used by police officers at crime scenes or when drunk driving is suspected. The scientists at University of California at San Diego believe this patch could replace breathalyzers that prevent cars from starting if the driver is intoxicated. These scientists see the product being marketed to bars or restaurants with alcohol, where the bartender can see the alcohol content of the customers. 

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