US-based researchers have created wireless, battery-free sensors that can monitor exposure to solar radiation and ultraviolet (UV) light in real time and could help to optimise light treatments for skin conditions.

The research was announced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

High exposure to UV light can result in an increased risk of melanoma and other skin cancers, which together cost over $8.1bn a year in the US and are expected to reach epidemic proportions in the country, AAAS said. The sensors could aid in warning people of over-exposure to UV light and the associated risks.

Light exposure can also be therapeutic and the use of blue light therapy has become a standard-of-care treatment for infants with jaundice, which affects 50% to 60% of infants who are born prematurely. According to the researchers, the sensor devices have already successfully monitored light exposure in infants undergoing blue light therapy for this condition.

Current UV monitoring devices are said to have various drawbacks such as limited battery life hindering their broader use. To tackle these issues, one of the lead researchers of the study, Seung Yun Heo, and his colleagues aimed to create a low-cost technology that consists of flexible, adherent sensors that can monitor various forms of radiation. The device they created features a system-on-a-chip design, which allows wireless, smartphone-based access to an individual’s sensor-read solar exposure data.

The sensor device was tested on healthy volunteers who wore the technology during outdoor recreational activities, including walking and swimming, over a four-day period. The researchers were then able to observe that the devices remained functional and reliably recorded UVA solar radiation doses. Heo and his colleagues said that the sensors even remained functional after a cycle through a washing machine.

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The sensors have also been designed in different shapes and sizes to capture UVA and UVB exposure for clinical phototherapy.