Researchers have developed a smart bandage which is able to monitor the status of a wound to deploy drugs effectively.
A team of engineers from Tufts University revealed the prototype bandage last week.
Bandages are generally a treatment afterthought, applied only to staunch bloody wounds, prevent infection, and keep an area clean while it heals.
However, the prototype aims to show that bandages can make the transition from a passive treatment option to an active one -- through the introduction of sensors which monitor wounds in real-time.
According to the team, chronic wounds which refuse to heal are an issue which costs the US economy an estimated $28 billion per year.
These kinds of injuries can include burns, skin disruption caused by diabetes, and other conditions which debilitate the skin's healing abilities -- sometimes leading to continual infections and in the worst cases, amputations.
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With this in mind, the researchers designed a bandage able to actively monitor wounds as they heal.
The bandage includes integrated sensors which can detect the pH of a wound and whether or not a wound is healing. PH levels falling within the range of 5.5 to 6.5 indicate healing, while pH levels of over 6.5 suggest an infection.
In addition, temperature sensors are embedded in the bandage which can monitor inflammation.
The data collected by the sensors is read by a microprocessor. If the pH levels and temperature recordings indicate that healing is not going well, a drug carrier implemented within a gel is then able to release medication to boost recovery.
The bandage is less than 3mm thick and components are connected through a transparent medical tape.
The team says that the device is not expensive, either; as all of the components -- with the exception of the reusable microprocessor -- were specifically chosen to ensure the bandage is cheap and disposable.
"The smart bandage we created, with pH and temperature sensors and antibiotic drug delivery, is really a prototype for a wide range of possibilities," said Sameer Sonkusale, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Tufts University's School of Engineering and co-author for the study. "One can imagine embedding other sensing components, drugs, and growth factors that treat different conditions in response to different healing markers."
The smart bandages have been tested in vitro in laboratory conditions and pre-clinical trial research is underway.
In addition, Sonkusale and his team have developed flexible sensors for oxygenation which can be integrated within the bandage to provide an additional healing marker.
The research has been published in the academic journal Small and was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research Young Investigator award, the ONR PECASE Award, and the National Institutes of Health.