How a new generation of wearables is transforming healthcare

Dutch/Flemish edition National Geographic highlights Holst Centre’s wearable technology 

Over the coming years, we are set to see a new generation of wearables being rolled out of Belgian and Dutch research labs. In this November's issue of National Geographic, journalist Ilka De Bisschop sets out how wearable sensors are bringing about radical changes in healthcare in her article ‘Een arts op batterijen’ (‘A battery-powered doctor’). In the article, she discusses the topic with field experts Geert Langereis, Charlotte Kjellander, Patrick van Deursen and Bernard Grundlehner, among others, with accompanying photography by Ton Toemen.

According to Geert Langereis, Health Research Programme Manager at imec's Holst Centre in Eindhoven, not only the individual patient, but society as a whole would benefit from more accurate monitoring. ‘The ever-increasing group of chronically ill patients is putting pressure on our healthcare systems. If such patients were to develop fewer complications, it would improve their quality of life, as well as saving on healthcare spending.’


Most bodily functions targeted by wearables have long already been measured, though via monitors inside hefty casings that take up half an examination room. Thanks to the rapid evolution of nanotechnology, such devices can now be made to fit inside a sticking plaster. These chips are now incredibly tiny, featuring energy-efficient batteries the size of a little fingernail that last for days, with flexible conductive ink now replacing the clunky wires of yesteryear.


The team led by Charlotte Kjellander, Head of the Wearable Electronics Department at TNO at Holst Centre, develops prototypes for a broad range of wearables, among other things. These include sensors incorporated into compact devices, plasters, and even clothing, which measure just about anything you can measure in the human body. ‘At the Holst Centre, we bring together all facets of wearable technology development’, says Kjellander.


While wearables are coming along nicely, major developers are already looking further ahead. Patrick van Deursen, Health Director of imec at the Holst Centre, holds up a transparent, seemingly normal pill in his hand. But inside, there is a tiny sensor, a chip and a non-toxic battery. This is an ‘ingestible’, developed at imec's One Planet Research Centre in Wageningen. Once ingested, the pill will take readings as it travels through the digestive system.

[Photo in header: Researcher Anand Soundararajan is testing the health patch from Holst Centre]


The full article - in Dutch - can be read here:

You can order this edition of National Geography via the link below.