Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (AFRL), Ohio – The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), in partnership with the Nanobiomaterials Consortium (NBMC) and Case Western Reserve University, is developing wearable sensors to measure the Biomarker. The term “biomarker” refers to any physiological or molecular information that can track human health.
The collaboration, Biomolecular Structure and Integration of Sensors (BioSIS), connects AFRL’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, the 711th Human Performance Wing, NBMC and Case Western Reserve University. In 2022, the research results accumulated by BioSIS since 2018 lead to the establishment of private spin-off company Sensate Biosystems. NBMC provided funding to Case Western Reserve University to license existing AFRL patents, form its own team and start a company to develop wearable molecular sensor research for dual use in the commercial market.
Human performance monitoring wearable sensors optimize the ability to capture and monitor molecular signatures in bodily fluids such as saliva, interstitial fluid, and sweat. The technology is key to tracking well-being during critical missions, sensing when pilots and guards become overtired, stressed or overstimulated, said Lawrence Drummy, senior materials engineer at the Bureau of Materials and Manufacturing and technical lead at BioSIS.
“Historically, we’ve had very few sensors on the pilot,” Drumey said. “We’re looking to equip them with more advanced human surveillance capabilities so mission commanders can integrate that information and make faster decisions.”
Wearable sensor technology has the potential to quantitatively measure human stress levels during missions, inform personnel to return to safe areas and monitor biomolecular responses of sick or injured personnel.
“These wearable sensors can take many forms, such as a mouthguard, a patch that sticks to the skin, or a microneedle patch that only penetrates the epidermis into interstitial fluid,” Drummy said. “These sensors will be integrated into a network, not just used individually, so that a global picture of performance can be generated.”
Dr. Jorge Chavez Benavides, technical lead for the Pilot Systems Directorate of AFRL’s 711th Human Performance Wing, and his team were invited to participate in project conception and brainstorming discussions with Case Western Reserve University and the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate to determine Scoping study for the BioSIS program.
“The ability to continuously monitor biomarkers under different conditions in real time will provide detailed information about how the body works and responds to external stressors at a level of detail never seen before,” Chavez said. The information will allow the design of personalized models that can predict performance and health issues before they occur, minimizing negative impacts on our mission and health.”
A key goal of BioSIS in its infancy is the selection of biomarkers to study. Drummy said the researchers eventually narrowed the list down to neuropeptide Y — a protein abundant in the human brain and detectable in human sweat that can be used to predict how an individual will perform under extreme stress — and a protein that can be used to monitor damage. Healing Lactic Acid.
“Biomolecules like neuropeptide Y and lactate, they’re in very low concentrations in your blood,” said First Lieutenant. Suren Uswatta, Technical Program Manager and Government Program Manager, Biomaterials Division, NBMC. “So they’re very difficult — almost impossible — to detect. That’s where this new technology is really important. It allows us to detect those tiny concentrations, those tiny quantities.”
AFRL’s biomarker research focuses on a variety of biomolecules, including lactate and neuropeptide Y. In addition to its military significance, neuropeptide Y is thought to have potential for future commercial health applications for weight loss purposes, obesity management and mood disorders, Drummy said.
When programs like BioSIS commercialize their research to private companies, the likelihood that intellectual property, or IP, can be more economically scaled up for Air Force production and future purchase increases, Uswatta said.
“Our initial short-term goal is that after the first two years, we will pursue a path to commercialization, because this technology has a lot of potential for people outside the military as well,” Uswata said. “One way is to use knowledge property [IP] Start your own company, but there’s a lot of entrepreneurial risk involved — career, family life, finances, everything. Bringing this new technology to market and creating products from it is risky. NBMC wants to support risk takers. ”
The program advances DAF goals and fosters collaboration.
“This project is a great example of how scientists at AFRL are working across technology sectors and working with external partners to provide the best possible return on investment for the money taxpayers give us to develop next-generation capabilities for the Air Force and Defenders ,” Chavez said.
A large number of biomolecular studies were conducted by a research team led by Dr. Mark Chance, professor of nutrition at Case Western Reserve University. As director of the Center for Proteomics and Bioinformatics and founder of BioSIS, Chance works with Drummy, Uswatta and others in AFRL’s 711th Human Performance Wing.
“The 711th is on the front lines of measuring things,” Chance said. “They help us separate the markers. We [the Case Western Reserve University research team] Say: Tell us what we need to measure and we’ll come up with a platform [that is now BioSIS]. The flexibility the Air Force allows us to set up is pretty unusual – they instilled a level of trust and confidence in us that I really appreciate. ”
Chance said he believes Sensate Biosystems will continue to expand the research program not only for military applications but also for commercial use.
“I’m proud of the team we’ve built,” Chance said. “I think it’s sustainable. I believe it’s here to stay, and there will continue to be research. That’s how you make an impact on the future.”
Drummy sometimes says he refers to the BioSIS program simply as “the wearable of the future.”
“It sounds so cliché,” Drummy commented. “But it’s true.”
About the Air Force Research Laboratory
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development and integration of affordable warfare technologies for our Air Force, space and cyberspace forces. With more than 11,500 employees in nine technology areas and 40 other business units around the world, AFRL offers a diverse portfolio of science and technology from basic research to advanced research and technology development. For more information, please visit: www.afresearchlab.com.