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WearOptimo’s IL-6 Microwearable sensors for real-time monitoring of severe COVID-19 

The world is in crisis with the novel coronavirus pandemic, and WearOptimo is responding.

With agility at the core of everything we do, WearOptimo is focussing its expertise and resources to developing an innovative sensing technology to assist clinicians caring for the most critically ill COVID-19 patients. Our sensor will improve patient treatment and ease pressure on overburdened intensive care units worldwide.

Although the SARS-CoV2 virus primarily infects cells of the nasopharynx and later, the lungs, COVID-19 is proving to be primarily a disease of the immune system.  Working in stealth mode, it evades the immune system for days to weeks before symptoms are exhibited, by which time the viral burden is high. The immune system then reacts.

In most people (around 80%) who only experience mild symptoms, this manifests as a productive immune response that is able to combat the virus successfully. Those who die from coronavirus infection do so from catastrophic lung and organ failure caused by an event known as a ‘cytokine storm’. This occurs when the body’s immune system over-reacts to the unfamiliar virus and begins to call in more and more immune cells to fight the infection, in an endless loop that eventually inflames and destroys the very lung tissues it is trying to defend. The patient actually dies from a form of immunological suicide.

Approximately 14% of those infected will experience severe symptoms that require hospital care, approximately 5% will need intensive care.  Of these, approximately half will eventually require a ventilator because the cytokine storm has so badly affected their lungs that they are struggling to breathe on their own.

The problem is, there are not enough ventilators to go around. Intensive Care Units in hospitals in severely affected regions have been overloaded with serious cases, and there is a desperate shortage of equipment. This shortage of equipment and ICU beds also has had dire consequences for other patients, not affected by the virus, but with other life-threatening conditions.

The warning sign for an emerging cytokine storm is a sharp rise in an inflammatory protein called IL-6 in the blood, which is low in those with mild symptoms, but rises only in those who will go on to develop severe symptoms, a few days before they do. This offers a powerful early predictor for cytokine storm, and severe respiratory failure. Any information informing on a patient’s IL-6 status is therefore extremely useful in deciding whether they will eventually need access to a ventilator.

Another clinical option for these patients is to dampen the immune response with anti-inflammatory drugs, such as those that block the action of IL-6. However, these are expensive therapies, also in short supply, and a method to predict which patients are likely to need them will make them stretch further and monitoring IL-6 throughout therapy will improve their effectiveness.

With development of a vaccine uncertain, and at least 12-18 months away, there is an urgent need for better ways to manage and treat COVID-19 patients with developing symptoms, early.  In doing so, lives will be saved.

Looking into the eye of the storm

WearOptimo has deployed its revolutionary wearable health technology to address unmet needs in the care of seriously ill patients with coronavirus infection.

Our sensors are ‘sticker-like’ simple, single-use devices that are painless to apply and wear. They report on IL-6 levels within the skin’s interstitial fluid, which gives an accurate representation of what is happening in the blood stream and is easier and quicker to access.

Lab-based measurement of IL-6 is labour intensive, and results can only be returned many critical hours after the sample is taken. So despite its usefulness, IL-6 isn’t routinely measured in COVID-19 patients due to logistical burdens.

With the IL-6 Microwearable, the result can be read by the doctor within minutes, and measurements can be taken continuously and 24/7, throughout the time a patient is within hospital, giving doctors vital information on a patient’s condition.

Proof-of-concept has been demonstrated and we are now rapidly developing our sensor for evaluation in clinical trials over the next weeks-months, with the aim of deploying a sensor for use in hospitals by the end of the year.

Advantages of the IL-6 Microwearable sensor

Detecting those patients most likely to develop severe respiratory failure and so need ventilation and/or other treatments to save life.

Discriminating between these and patients who may not need ventilation, thus sparing life-saving equipment for others, including non-COVID-19 emergency patients.

Providing early warning and a constant read-out of the patient’s progress, replacing the need for costly repeat testing.

Flexible, cheap to produce, easy to use and painless to wear.

Deployable to many other situations in which monitoring of inflammatory responses is needed including:


Cytokine storms are common in cancer patients receiving revolutionary CAR and TCR biological therapies


Monitoring inflammation is an important consideration for safety assessment of experimental treatments in trials


Rapidly increasing levels of inflammatory cytokines including IL-6 are warning signs of the onset of life-threatening bacterial sepsis


Including preparedness for future seasonal or pandemic viral infections (e.g. influenza)

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