Scientists have reported the first tests of a sweat sensor that acts as an early warning system for an impending cytokine storm.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors noted that patients who developed a cytokine storm often ended up in intensive care and died. There is no exact definition of the term “cytokine storm”; in a broad sense, it is understood as a hyperinflammatory reaction, in which interferons, interleukins, tumor necrosis factors, chemokines and some other mediators are actively released. In this case, a cytokine storm involves causing harm to the body’s own cells due to the release of cytokines. A cytokine storm is easily recognized in hyperinflammatory diseases by an increased level of cytokines in the absence of a pathogen, however, in infectious diseases, its interpretation becomes difficult, since the inflammatory reaction simultaneously helps to get rid of the pathogen and harms the body.
By the way, a cytokine storm can occur with other diseases, for example, with the flu.
The SWEATSENSER Dx sweat sensor, which acts as an early warning system for an impending cytokine storm, will help doctors better treat patients, the scientists said in a report at the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
Although blood tests can measure cytokines, they are difficult to do at home and cannot constantly monitor protein levels. Cytokines are released in sweat in smaller quantities than in the blood. To collect enough sweat for testing, the scientists asked patients to exercise or applied a small electric current to the patients’ skin. However, these procedures themselves can alter cytokine levels.
Early detection is important. Once a cytokine storm begins, excessive inflammation can damage organs, causing severe illness and death. But if doctors can prescribe steroids or other treatments once cytokine levels start to rise, hospitalizations and deaths can be reduced.
Therefore, the researchers wanted to develop an extremely sensitive method for measuring cytokine levels in tiny amounts of sweat.
When worn on your hand, sweat will drip onto a disposable sensor strip attached to an electronic reader. It contains two electrodes and is coated with antibodies that bind to two proteins. The binding of proteins to their antibodies changes the electrical current flowing through the electronic board. The reader then wirelessly transmits this data to a smartphone app that converts the electrical measurements into protein concentration.
For their new cytokine sensor, the researchers created sensor strips with antibodies against seven pro-inflammatory proteins.
SWEATSENSER Dx has proven to be sensitive enough even to measure cytokines in patients on anti-inflammatory drugs. The device monitored cytokine levels for 168 hours before the sensor strip needed to be replaced.