A device smaller than a credit card and capable of monitoring vital signs on the human body is being tested by Australia’s Antarctic expeditioners in a ground-breaking clinical trial.

The BioSticker™ is a medical-grade wearable sensor, designed to track temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, cough frequency and activity.

The unobtrusive single-use devices are worn on the upper chest and can function for up to 30 days while wirelessly transmitting data in real time.

Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) Chief Medical Officer Dr Jeff Ayton said the first stage of the research is to understand if the technology is practical and comfortable for expeditioners to use.

“The BioSticker™ is almost unnoticeable and easy to wear, but we need to test these devices in predeparture quarantine, and in the field to ensure they work for expeditioners, who face challenging conditions in the extreme Antarctic environment,” Dr Ayton said.

“Ultimately, the reason we’re doing this is to find out if the BioSticker™ is acceptable and has utility to provide early signals of infectious COVID-19 or other infection risks, in expeditioners before they depart for Antarctica as well as on ships, planes and at stations,” Dr Ayton said.

The trial is voluntary and will run for the length of the summer Antarctic season augmenting existing COVID-19 controls, 14 days of pre-departure quarantine and PCR testing.

Participant data is encrypted and de-identified under approved research protocols to protect privacy with trial results expected in the second half of 2022.

AAD Director Kim Ellis praised the efforts of the Polar Medicine Unit and operations teams to keep Australia’s Antarctic and sub-Antarctic stations COVID-free.

“The pandemic continues to throw challenges at Australia’s Antarctic Program but ingenuity thrives under pressure,” Mr Ellis said.

“This means we are looking at new technology and new ideas we might not otherwise have considered.”

“If this research proves successful, it could increase the level of protection we can offer to those keeping our stations running and undertaking scientific work.”

The trial is being undertaken with support of research partners at the University of California-San Francisco- UC Space Health- Associate Professor Aenor Sawyer, BioIntelliSense Inc., AlertWatch Inc. and University of Tasmania–Public Health– Associate Professor Nicola Stephens through the Centre for Antarctic, Remote and Maritime Medicine.