A University of California, Irvine (UCI) research team has created a wearable, disposable monitor that could continuously track breath rate and volume.

Developed using plastic material from popular children’s toys called Shrinky Dinks, the new respiration monitor is intended to help children with asthma, cystic fibrosis or other chronic pulmonary disorders.

It consists of a pair of sensors made cost-effectively with thin plastic sheets that are shrunk with heat. They are to be positioned between the ninth and tenth ribs, and on the abdomen.

“Signals from the sensors embedded in the respiratory monitor can be transferred to a smartphone through Bluetooth.”

Shaped like a band-aid, the new device monitors the rate and volume of the user’s respiration via measurement of the local strain on the application sites.

UCI biomedical engineering researcher Michael Chu said: “The current standard of care in respiration monitoring is a pulmonary function test that’s often difficult to perform and limited in terms of the snapshot it provides of a patient’s respiratory health – meaning problems can sometimes be missed.

“Our new stretch sensors allow users to walk around and go about their lives while vital information on the health of their lungs is being collected.”

The researchers said that the collected information could help in predicting an oncoming asthma attack.

Asthma charity Asthma UK has claimed that someone is having a potentially life-threatening asthma attack every ten seconds in the UK and that three people die daily due to asthma despite two-thirds of attacks being considered preventable.

Signals from the sensors embedded in the respiratory monitor can be transferred to a smartphone through Bluetooth.

The researchers have assessed the new device on healthy subjects, with plans to conduct a pilot clinical trial in a small number of asthma sufferers in the near future.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the University of California Center for Accelerated Innovation funded the respiratory monitor research.

Previously, the UCI team used the Shrinky Dinks toy to create microfluidic devices.

Additional reporting by Charlotte Edwards.