Remote Horse Slicker Monitors Chronic Health Conditions

E-textiles is an exciting field that involves embedding electronics in fabrics and textiles. Health care workers are increasingly demanding these wearable electronics because the sensors can easily and conveniently monitor daily activities and health conditions. Purdue University veterinarians and biomedical engineers have used this technology to develop a remote horse slicker that can monitor a horse’s cardiac, respiratory, and musculoskeletal system via Bluetooth. The device can help manage chronic health conditions in large animals, and the goal is to develop a version for humans, using the same information.

The technology

The Purdue research team developed a dual regime spray technique to directly embed pre-programmed functional nanomaterials into a horse slicker’s fabric to add the e-textile capabilities to the garment. The formidable team included:

  • Chi Hwan Lee, a Leslie A. Geddes associate professor of biomedical engineering in Purdue’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering
  • Martin Byung-Guk Jun, an associate professor of mechanical engineering in the School of Mechanical Engineering
  • Taehoo Chang of the School of Materials Engineering
  • Semih Akin, Bongjoong Kim, and Sengul Teke of the School of Mechanical Engineering
  • Laura Murray of the College of Veterinary Medicine
  •  Seungse Cho, Sena Huh, and Min Ku Kim of the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering 

The technology, which enables the e-textile to retain its intrinsic fabric properties, such as mechanical flexibility, water vapor permeability, and wearability, is the result of Lee’s sticktronics research. Sticktronics are sticker-like devices that contain electronics or smart technology and separate supporting substrates in existing electronic items, turning the item into a more flexible or transparent object. To monitor the horse’s vital information remotely, the e-textile is connected to a separate portable unit that shares information to a laptop via Bluetooth. The e-textile allows veterinarians to monitor a horse without shaving their hair or using unreliable adhesive to hold the electrodes in place. This technology will be extremely useful to help diagnose and manage chronic diseases and monitor hospitalized horses.

The National Institutes of Health and National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, the National Science Foundation Civil, Mechanical, and Manufacturing Innovation, and the SMART Films Consortium in Purdue’s Birck Nanotechnology Center funded the e-textile slicker project. The Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization has filed a patent for the technology.

Real life use

The e-textile slicker comfortably fits the horse’s body when they are resting or under ambulatory conditions, and collects biosignals from the skin, including heart activity, muscle activity, and respiration rate. Veterinarians can then use the information to improve their equine patients’ health care in numerous ways, including:

  • Monitoring hospitalized horses — Horses in the hospital are currently monitored periodically by trained technicians, but this system does not provide continuous monitoring of the horse’s vitals and interrupts the horse’s rest when the technician enters their stall. Monitoring the horse remotely using the e-textile slicker would be a valuable tool to provide more health information, and free up the technicians for other tasks.
  • Monitoring asthmatic horses — The e-textile slicker could also be used to monitor horses affected by chronic conditions such as equine asthma. The information could detect early disease signs and treatment administered, preventing a more serious event. 
  • Monitoring laminitic horses — The device could be used to monitor horses with chronic laminitis to detect early signs and start treatment to reduce severity.
  • Monitoring colicky horses — The e-textile slicker would allow a veterinarian treating a colicky farm horse to monitor the horse from afar once they had formulated a treatment plan, minimizing farm calls, and saving the veterinarian time and the client money.
  • Monitoring pregnant mares — The device could be used to help determine when a mare is going into labor. 
  • Evaluating physical fitness — During a horse’s pre-purchase examination, the e-textile slicker can be used to help determine their physical fitness. 

The e-textile slicker that Dr. Lee and his team have developed will allow equine veterinarians to improve their patient care and advance the field. In addition, the technology to embed functioning nanomaterials into fabrics can be used to develop a similar product for physicians and their human patients.

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