The future of medical sensors is flexible. Scientists from the University of Manitoba have created a stretchy, wearable biosensor out of chewing gum, capable of moving with the human body. 

As they describe in a paper in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, the researchers modified a piece of chewing gum with carbon nanotubes to create a sensor that can be stretched and folded. The sensor was tested on a person’s finger and throat, and was able to detect both small and large motions, including slow and deep breathing, and a sneeze. It also detected humidity, as from a person’s breath, because the gum’s resistance changed as the humidity levels shifted. 

The researchers note that the type of gum isn’t important—they used Doublemint, and tested out other types too—but it does have to be chewed. To create the sensor, one of the researchers chewed a piece of gum for 30 minutes before washing it in ethanol and letting it sit overnight, and then added to it a carbon nanotube solution. 

Most other sensors that can track medical information, like heart rate monitors, are too stiff to capture the body’s movement. Tattoo-inspired biopatches represent one idea for more flexible sensors that could monitor a wider range of health data. Because chewing gum stretches, it can be used to measure any kind of movement, and can be comfortably worn on the skin or in clothes. This one is just a prototype, but the technique hints at plenty of new possibilities for bodily sensors. 

However, it’s probably not coming to a body near you anytime soon. The researchers don’t say how the technology might be scaled to work for medical use, and presumably the manufacturing of the flexible sensors wouldn't include a group of people whose sole job is to chew gum for half an hour at a time. 

Banner image from Darabi et al., ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces