Researchers have incorporated electronic monitoring technology into sleek-fitting horse vests that can alert caregivers to health problems.
The innovation was designed by Purdue University engineers and veterinarians, who incorporated the required technology into off-the-shelf horse slickers.
The conversion of the standard slickers into e-textiles allows the continuous monitoring of cardiac, respiratory and muscular systems for several hours while the horse is moving about.
The Indiana researchers, in a paper published in the journal Advanced Materials, described how they added e-textile capabilities to the slicker by developing a dual-regime spray technique that allows them to directly embed a pre-programmed pattern of functional nanomaterials into the slicker’s fabric.
They said their technique allows the direct custom writing of functional nanoparticles into fabrics at sub-millimeter resolution over meter scale.
To enable remote monitoring, the e-textile was connected to a separate portable unit that shared vital signs to a laptop via bluetooth.
Using the e-textile means that veterinarians and their support staff won’t have to shave the horse’s hair or use messy adhesives to place electrodes on the horse’s skin, which makes it more comfortable for the horse.
Associate Professor Chi Hwan Lee, in the university’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, said continual monitoring through the e-textile patterns can be useful for long-term management of chronic health conditions in large animals and eventually humans.
Lee says adding e-textile properties to existing garments helps scientists, researchers and clinicians take advantage of garments’ already-existing ergonomic designs to secure a commercial-grade product in terms of wearability, comfort, air permeability and machine washability.
“These specially designed e-textiles can comfortably fit to the body of humans or large animals under ambulatory conditions to collect bio-signals from the skin such as heart activity from the chest, muscle activity from the limbs, respiration rate from the abdomen or other vital signs in an extremely slight manner,” Lee said.
“Our technology will significantly extend the utility of e-textiles into many applications in clinical settings.”
The team’s next steps involve developing continuous 24-hour monitoring of horses with chronic disease or those receiving care in a veterinary intensive care unit.
“We believe that our technology will be helpful in diagnosis or management of chronic diseases,” Lee said, especially as demand increases for remote health monitoring.
“Remote health monitoring under ambulatory conditions would be useful for farm and household animals, as it could potentially minimize clinic visits, especially in rural areas. It would also increase the efficiency in managing a large number of farm/household animals at once from a distance, even overnight.”
A real-life example would be the ability to monitor severe equine asthma, which affects 14% of adult horses.
Laurent Couëtil, a professor of large animal internal medicine in Purdue’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and a collaborator in the study, said continuous monitoring would allow early detection of a disease flare-up before it got serious, offering an opportunity to “nip it in the bud”.
“Remote monitoring opens the possibility of sending vital information to the veterinarian to help make timely and informed treatment decisions,” Couëtil said.
The flexibility of the technology will allow the e-textiles to tightly fit various body sizes and shapes, delivering high-fidelity readings.
Pilot field tests in a remote health-monitoring setting with a large animal, such as a horse, demonstrate the scalability and utility of the e-textiles beyond conventional devices, the study team wrote in their paper.
“This approach will be suitable for the rapid prototyping of custom e-textiles tailored to meet various clinical needs,” they said.
The Purdue research team also included Martin Byung-Guk Jun, an associate professor of mechanical engineering in the School of Mechanical Engineering; Taehoo Chang, of the School of Materials Engineering; Semih Akin, Bongjoong Kim and Sengul Teke, of the School of Mechanical Engineering; Laura Murray, of the College of Veterinary Medicine; and Seungse Cho, Sena Hur and Min Ku Kim, of the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering.
The Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization has filed a patent for the technology used in the slickers.
Funding for the study team’s research came from the National Institutes of Health National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, the National Science Foundation Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation and the SMART Films Consortium in Purdue’s Birck Nanotechnology Center in Discovery Park.
A Programmable Dual-Regime Spray for Large-Scale and Custom-Designed Electronic Textiles
Taehoo Chang, Semih Akin, Min Ku Kim, Laura Murray, Bongjoong Kim, Seungse Cho, Sena Huh, Sengul Teke, Laurent Couetil, Martin Byung-Guk Jun and Chi Hwan Lee
Advanced Materials, December 24, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1002/adma.202108021
The abstract of the study can be read here.