The sensor device has the ability to continuously track cytokine levels for up to 168 hours

cytokine storm

A wristwatch-like device measures cytokine levels in passive sweat. (Credit: Kai-Chun Lin)

US researchers have developed a new wristwatch-like device to detect a cytokine storm that is considered as one of the most serious symptoms of Covid-19.

Researchers at the University of Texas and EnLiSense have developed a sweat sensor that serves as early warning system to identify patients developing a cytokine storm, which involves a surge of pro-inflammatory immune proteins.

Once unleashed, a cytokine storm is found to result in excessive inflammation that could damage organs, causing severe illness and death.

Called the SWEATSENSER Dx, the new sensor device developed by the researchers has the ability to continuously track cytokine levels for up to 168 hours before it is replaced.

Cytokines are also measured by blood tests, but they do not provide continuous monitoring of the proteins’ levels and are also difficult to perform at home.

The SWEATSENSER Dx is also said to be sensitive enough to measure cytokines in patients taking anti-inflammatory drugs.

The project’s principal investigator Shalini Prasad said: “Especially now in the context of COVID-19, if you could monitor pro-inflammatory cytokines and see them trending upwards, you could treat patients early, even before they develop symptoms.”

The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority DRIVe programme and EnLiSense have provided funding to develop the skin sweat sensor.

The research results were presented at the American Chemical Society spring meeting.

In partnership with the researchers, EnLiSense now intends to conduct clinical trials of the cytokine sensor in people with respiratory infections.

Prasad said: “Access to COVID-19 patients has been a challenge because healthcare workers are overwhelmed and don’t have time to test investigational devices.

“But we’re going to continue to test it for all respiratory infections because the disease trigger itself doesn’t matter –– it’s what’s happening with the cytokines that we’re interested in monitoring.”

A cytokine storm is also said to occur in other illnesses, such as influenza.