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PEOPLE are born with up to 4m sweat glands to provide a natural way to regulate temperature. The evaporation of perspiration cools you down. As sweat is produced it also picks up a lot of information about how the body is behaving, in the form of “biomarkers”: electrolytes, sugars, amino acids, proteins, hormones and many other molecules that are the products of metabolism. If the tiny traces of these substances can be detected and measured, then it should be possible to monitor a person’s health from his sweat.
One of the biggest uses may be to monitor blood-sugar levels in people with diabetes. At present, diabetics must prick a finger regularly to obtain a drop of blood, testing it on an electrochemical strip inserted into a meter that calculates the amount of glucose in the blood. Some patch systems already exist, but tend to rely on microneedles, which continuously sample blood and transmit the results to a wearable device via a wire.
If Jason Heikenfeld of Eccrine Systems, a Cincinnati firm, has his way, the days are numbered for pricking the skin to obtain a sample. Dr Heikenfeld is trying to develop a sweat sensor to do the...
ARTIFICIAL intelligence (AI) can sometimes be put to rather whimsical uses. In 2012 Google announced that one of its computers, after watching thousands of hours of YouTube videos, had trained itself to identify cats. Earlier this year a secretive AI firm called DeepMind, bought by Google in 2014, reported in Nature that it had managed to train a computer to play a series of classic video games, often better than a human could, using nothing more than the games’ on-screen graphics.
But the point of such diversions is to illustrate that, increasingly, computers possess the pattern-recognition skills—identifying faces, interpreting pictures, listening to speech and the like—that were long thought to be the preserve of humans. Researchers, from startups to giant corporations, are now planning to put AI to work to solve more serious problems.
One such organisation is the California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF). The disease in the charity’s sights is diabetic retinopathy, one of the many long-term complications of diabetes. It is caused by damage to the tiny blood vessels that supply the retina. Untreated, it can lead to total loss of vision. Around 80% of diabetics will develop retinal damage after a decade; in rich countries it is one of the leading causes of blindness in the young and middle-aged. Much of the damage can be...