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Stretchable electronics a 'game changer' for stroke recovery treatment

New wearable device for the throat presented at AAAS annual meeting

A groundbreaking new wearable designed to be worn on the throat could be a game changer in the field of stroke rehabilitation. 

Developed in the lab of Northwestern University engineering professor John A. Rogers, in partnership with Shirley Ryan AbilityLabthe sensor is the latest in Rogers’ growing portfolio of stretchable electronics that are precise enough for use in advanced medical care and portable enough to be worn outside the hospital, even during extreme exercise. 

Rogers will present research on the implications of stretchable electronics for stroke recovery treatment at a press briefing at 11a.m. CST, Saturday, Feb. 17, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Austin, Texas. The briefing, “Biomedical Sensors in Service of Society,” will be held at 11 a.m. CST in Room 6, Level 3 of the Austin Convention Center. 

Rogers also will discuss his work at the AAAS presentation “Soft Electronics for the Human Body” from 4:30 to 5 p.m. CST Feb. 17, at the AAAS meeting. Rogers’ talk, to be held in Room F of the Austin Convention Center, is part of the scientific session “Biomedical Sensors: Advances in Health Monitoring and Disease Treatment.” 

Rogers’ sensors stick directly to the skin, moving with the body and providing detailed health metrics including heart function, muscle activity and quality of sleep. 

“Stretchable electronics allow us to see what is going on inside patients’ bodies at a level traditional wearables simply cannot achieve,” Rogers said. “The key is to make them as integrated as possible with the human body.” 

Rogers’ new bandage-like throat sensor measures patients’ swallowing ability and patterns of speech. The sensors aid in the diagnosis and treatment of aphasia, a communication disorder associated with stroke.  

The tools that speech-language pathologists have traditionally used to monitor patients’ speech function – such as microphones – cannot distinguish between patients’ voices and ambient noise. 

“Our sensors solve that problem by measuring vibrations of the vocal cords,” Rogers said. “But they only work when worn directly on the throat, which is a very sensitive area of the skin. We developed novel materials for this sensor that bend and stretch with the body, minimizing discomfort to patients.” 

Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, a research hospital in Chicago, uses the throat sensor in conjunction with electronic biosensors – also developed in Rogers’ lab – on the legs, arms and chest to monitor stroke patients’ recovery progress. The intermodal system of sensors streams data wirelessly to clinicians’ phones and computers, providing a quantitative, full-body picture of patients’ advanced physical and physiological responses in real time. 

“One of the biggest problems we face with stroke patients is that their gains tend to drop off when they leave the hospital,” said Arun Jayaraman, research scientist at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab and a wearable technology expert. “With the home monitoring enabled by these sensors, we can intervene at the right time, which could lead to better, faster recoveries for patients.” 

Because the sensors are wireless, they eliminate barriers posed by traditional health monitoring devices in clinical settings. Patients can wear them even after they leave the hospital, allowing doctors to understand how their patients are functioning in the real world. 

“Talking with friends and family at home is a completely different dimension from what we do in therapy,” said Leora Cherney, research scientist at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab and an expert in aphasia treatment. “Having a detailed understanding of patients’ communication habits outside of the clinic helps us develop better strategies with our patients to improve their speaking skills and speed up their recovery process.” 

 Jayaraman describes the platform’s mobility as a “game changer” in rehabilitation outcomes measurement.   

Data from the sensors will be presented in a dashboard that is easy for both clinicians and patients to understand. It will send alerts when patients are underperforming on a certain metric and allow them to set and track progress toward their goals.  

“We are so grateful for our partnership with the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab,” Rogers said. “They are helping us move our technology from the research lab to the real world, where it already is making a positive impact on the lives of patients.” 

Rogers also is collaborating with the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab to test the sensors on patients with other conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease. 

Ten Northwestern professors will present their work at the AAAS annual meeting. See a full summary at Northwestern Now. 

Rogers is a Simpson Querrey Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and biomedical engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and a professor of neurological surgery at Feinberg School of Medicine. He also is the director of the Center for Bio-Integrated Electronics at Northwestern University. 


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Interview the Experts

John A. Rogers

John A. Rogers

Louis Simpson and Kimberly Querrey Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Biomedical Engineering and Neurological Surgery in the McCormick School of Engineering and the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University

Director of the Center for Bio-Integrated Electronics at Northwestern University


“Stretchable electronics allow us to see what is going on inside patients’ bodies at a level traditional wearables simply cannot achieve. The key is to make them as integrated as possible with the human body.”

 Arun Jayaraman

Arun Jayaraman

Director of the Max Näder Lab for Rehabilitation Technologies and Outcomes Research at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab

Associate professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Medical Social Sciences, and Physical Therapy and Movement Sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine


“These sensors are a game changer in the field of rehabilitation because they allow us to monitor patients both in the hospital and in the real world. It allows us to do personalized medicine at its highest level.”

Leora Cherney

Leora Cherney

Scientific chair of the Think + Speak Lab at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab

Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and Communication Sciences and Disorders in the Feinberg School of Medicine and the School of Communication at Northwestern University

Press briefing information: 

Biomedical Sensors in Service of Society” 

11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 17 

Room 6, Level 3, Austin Convention Center 

Presentation information: 

“Soft Electronics for the Human Body” 

4:30 to 5 p.m. CST Saturday, Feb. 17 

Room F, Austin Convention Center