This Wearable, Wholly 3D-Printed Light Sensor Could Help Track the Causes of Lupus Flare-Ups

Driven by a Raspberry Pi Zero W and a Python script, this wearable could provide vital insights into light-sensitive conditions.

A research team at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities has come up with a 3D-printed wearable device designed to help patients with lupus and other light-sensitive conditions by capturing light exposure data in real-time — so it can be correlated with disease flare-ups.

"I treat a lot of patients with lupus or related diseases, and clinically, it is challenging to predict when patients' symptoms are going to flare,"explains Dr. David Pearson, co-author of the study. "We know that ultraviolet light and, in some cases visible light, can cause flares of symptoms — both on their skin, as well as internally — but we don't always know what combinations of light wavelengths are contributing to the symptoms.

A 3D-printed light sensor worn on the body could provide insights into light-sensitive conditions like lupus. (📹: University of Minnesota Twin Cities)

The team's solution to this lack of data: a 3D-printed wearable which continuously tracks a subject's exposure to both ultraviolet and visible light. By correlating the light-exposure record with the patient's symptoms, it's possible to ascertain exactly how much exposure to particular types of light is likely to cause a symptom flare-up.

"This research builds upon our previous work where we developed a fully 3D printed light-emitting device, but this time instead of emitting light, it is receiving light," adds Michael McAlpine, co-author and professor of mechanical engineering, of the work. "The light is converted to electrical signals to measure it, which in the future can then be correlated with the patient’s symptoms flare ups."

The device itself is entirely 3D-printed, using a biocompatible silicone base and a layered design with electrodes and optical filters plus zinc oxide to convert the ultraviolet light into electrical signals suitable for capture and recording. Its output is sent via a Microchip MCP3208 analog-to-digital converter (ADC) to a Raspberry Pi Zero W single-board computer, running a Python-based signal capture tool.

"There is no other device like this right now with this potential for personalization and such easy fabrication," claims Pearson. "The dream would be to have one of these 3D printers right in my office. I could see a patient and assess what light wavelengths we want to evaluate. Then I could just print it off for the patient and give it to them. It could be 100 per cent personalized to their needs. That’s where the future of medicine is going."

The team's work has been published under open-access terms in the journal Advanced Science.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire:
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