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Geckos Inspire Improved Blood Pressure Monitors

Because of their feet, geckos can stick to anything, a fact that is inspiring University of Pittsburgh scientists to transform the way medical experts track blood pressure.

Geckos Inspire Improved Blood Pressure Monitors

Image Credit: Chompoo Suriyo/

The toe pads of geckos are full of thin hairs known as setae, which stick to surfaces. Feng Xiong, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, and his team are exploring gecko feet to enhance the adhesiveness of cuffless 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure tracking. This study will be funded for $580,000 through the National Institute of Health (NIH) spanning the following three years.

Blood pressure is hard to track longitudinally. Patients, for example, are likely to be more stressed when inside a doctor’s office, likely creating higher blood pressure readings than normal, which is why 24-hour monitoring is important.

Feng Xiong, Associate Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Swanson School of Engineering, University of Pittsburgh

Cuff-based devices are most frequently used to monitor variations in blood pressure, as well as diagnose hypertension, but the devices have their own set of limits. For every 15 minutes or so, the cuff intermittently inflates and deflates even while the patient is attempting to sleep. Tracking blood pressure during sleep is vital for medical specialists, but disturbing patients’ sleep can result in misreadings during medical observation.

Cuffless blood pressure tracking devices would not only enhance patients’ sleep but also offer medical experts a more effective clinical method for treating hypertension.

Affiliating with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Xiong is joined by co-investigators Ramakrishna Mukkamala, Associate Professor of Bioengineering and Anesthesiology, and Matthew Muldoon, Professor of Medicine. Aman Mahajan, Professor of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, and Sanjeev Shroff, Interim Dean of the Swanson School of Engineering, will act as faculty associates.

The collaborative team will engineer wearable tonometric sensors at arterial areas on the neck and the ankle. These sensors will gather tonometric waveforms and pulse transit time (PTT)—or the time taken for the pulse to move between two arterial areas—concurrently. Eventually, the researchers plan to integrate high-fidelity arterial tonometry and PTT principles to realize 24-hour cuffless blood pressure tracking.

We will be challenging existing barriers with a number of innovations. These include integrating ionic liquid and microstructures in the sensor to enhance both the sensitivity and dynamic range, mimicking the feet of geckos at the sensor substrate for better adhesion, and develop PTT-based calibration to extract both diastolic and systolic blood pressure.

Feng Xiong, Associate Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Swanson School of Engineering, University of Pittsburgh

Muldoon explained that this study is necessary to help patients dealing with hypertension as well as for the doctors aiming to treat it.

Xiong’s lab seeks to catapult research on devices to measure blood pressure in the hospital and at home every minute without noise or pain.

Matthew Muldoon, Professor, Medicine, University of Pittsburgh

The objective of the study is that more precise readings from cuffless blood pressure monitors will result in enhanced hypertension diagnosis, fewer cardiovascular disease mortalities, and better post-surgery hypotension tracking.

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