The engineering and medical departments at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities have developed a novel 3D-printed medical device that, when applied directly to the skin, can provide real-time feedback to link light exposure to disease flare-ups.
The device could help millions of people with lupus and other light-sensitive disorders by providing them with access to more specialised treatments and an understanding of what is causing their symptoms, claims the study.
“I treat a lot of patients with lupus or related diseases, and clinically, it’s difficult to predict when patients’ symptoms will flare,” said David Pearson, a dermatologist at the University of Minnesota Medical School and co-author of the study.
“We know that ultraviolet and, in some cases, visible light can cause flares of symptoms—both on their skin and internally—but we don’t always know what combinations of light wavelengths are contributing to the symptoms,” he added.
What is lupus?
Lupus, also known as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, is an autoimmune rheumatic disease that affects numerous organs throughout the body. It is distinguished by a red rash in the shape of a butterfly on the face.
The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that approximately 1.5 million Americans and at least 5 million people worldwide have a form of lupus.
An estimated 40 to 70 percent of lupus patients report that being exposed to artificial or natural light indoors makes their condition worse. During these flare-ups, lupus patients may experience rashes, exhaustion, and joint pain.
A collaboration to help patients
According to the press release, Michael McAlpine and his team, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota, have developed a customised 3D-printing wearable device technology. He got in touch with McAlpine so they could work together to solve his issue.
Together, they developed a fully 3D-printed device that is the first of its kind and has a stretchable UV-visible light detector that can be applied to the skin.
A specially created portable console is connected to the system to continuously track and link symptoms to light exposure.
This study builds on our earlier work in which we created a fully 3D-printed light-emitting device, but this time the device is receiving light instead of emitting it, according to McAlpine, a co-author and professor in the department of mechanical engineering who holds the Kuhrmeyer Family Chair. To measure the light, it is “converted to electrical signals, which can later be correlated with the patient’s symptom flare-ups.”
The research team will soon begin recruiting participants for the study after receiving approval to begin using humans as test subjects for the device.
The next step, according to Pearson, is to actually place these devices in the hands of patients to see how they perform in actual use. “We know these devices work in the lab,” he said. “By giving them to participants, we can monitor how much light they were exposed to and learn how to predict symptoms. Additionally, we’ll keep testing the device in the lab to make it better.
“To have one of these 3D printers in my office would be a dream come true. I could examine a patient and determine which light wavelengths we should test, he continued.
The results were published in Advanced Science