EAST LANSING (WWJ) — As the country shivers and sneezes through another winter flu season consider: how cool would it be if your undershirt or socks not only kept you warm but also warned you about an oncoming infection?

They might, under a grant given to an engineering professor of Michigan State University to create wearable biosensors that analyze the tiny amounts of body fluids you secrete onto your clothes.

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The $400,000 National Science Foundation CAREER Award was given to Peter Lillehoj, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at MSU. He will spend the next five years advancing research on innovative wearable biosensors that can be used to detect illnesses and monitor health. Funding began Jan. 1.

“The whole notion of wearable sensors has been around for the past couple of years, especially with advancements in mobile electronics,” Lillehoj said. “However, I noticed most of the technology is mostly for measuring vital signs, for example heart rate, blood pressure, respiration. My research is more directed toward biomolecular detection, detecting proteins or other markers in the body. So I thought, why not combine my research with researach into wearable sensors?”

Lillehoj said the technology “will lead to lightweight and unobtrusive sensing systems that can be directly integrated onto fabrics and garments.”

Most of the sensors will analyze sweat. A few, intended mostly for seniors already wearing adult diapers or military and aerospace personnel who sit for long periods in one place and must urinate into what is (no kidding) called a “piddle pack,” will analyze urine.

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Lillehoj will also focus on developing textile batteries that are activated by body fluids for on-demand electricity generation. Based on this approach, the same fluids that are being detected could also power the device, minimizing its overall size and weight. “Small, lightweight, portable, disposable and self powered, those are all positive attributes,” he said.

So when might this stuff be available? “We’re hoping to demonstrate this in the next three to four years,” Lillehoj said. “By then we should have a prototype where we can produce some measurements with clinical samples.”

In addition to his research activities, he will also use the funding to develop new courses and outreach programs that promote micro- and nanotechnologies for biomedical applications. Lillehoj said he hopes that more high school and college students become interested in this field as well as other STEM disciplines, preparing them for future educational training and careers in biomedical research.

Lillehoj joined Michigan State in the fall of 2012 and becomes the 14th member of the MSU College of Engineering faculty to receive an NSF CAREER Award in the past five years.

He received three degrees in mechanical engineering: a B.S. from Johns Hopkins University (2006) and an M.S. (2007) and Ph.D. (2011) from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award is among the NSF’s most prestigious honors, recognizing young faculty members who are effectively integrating research and teaching.