A European Union (EU) funded research project has developed a system for integrating tiny stainless-steel wires within fabrics, which are designed to ferry information about the wearer's vital signs to electronic monitors.

The aim of the EUR4m WEALTHY project has been to create a "groundbreaking woven sensing interface to be worn without any discomfort" that can be plugged into monitors at home or work, downloading important medical data to doctors at remote locations.

A European Commission note said the system could help conduct electrocardiograms, and record "respiratory activity, body temperature and movement," transmitting them via networks similar to those used by mobile phones or directly recorded on a palm pilot via Bluetooth technology.

Some earlier medical clothing models have involved integrating potentially cumbersome and ugly technology; with WEALTHY garments, the networks are inside the fabric.

"Patients could receive check-ups at home by simply slipping on the shirt, which could be an important factor in reducing hospital stays and, in turn, overall health care costs," said the Commission.

Healthy people working in extreme environments whose health needs constantly monitoring by medics could also use these garments.

The WEALTHY research team has included scientists from Italy, France, Greece, Germany and Switzerland.
By Keith Nuthall.