Technology is changing and snaking its way into everything. Today’s smart, connected devices include everything from the watch on my wrist to the sensors in your refinery. From industrial applications to retail and healthcare, the Internet of Things (IoT) is allowing innovation in every aspect of life.
Just recently, a team of engineers at Tufts University announced the development of a prototype smart bandage that can actively monitor the condition of a chronic wound and deliver treatment as needed to assist the body’s natural healing process.
Not yet clinically tested, the team’s research was published in the journal Small and looks to transform bandaging from being a passive treatment into an active one. The research mainly focused on chronic skin wounds from burns, diabetes and related conditions that can lead to persistent infections and even amputations.
“We’ve been able to take a new approach to bandages because of the emergence of flexible electronics,” said Sameer Sonkusale, Ph. D. professor of electrical and computer engineering at Tufts University’s School of Engineering and corresponding co-author of the study, in a statement. “In fact, flexible electronics have made many wearable medical devices possible, but bandages have changed little since the beginnings of medicine. We are simply applying modern technology to an ancient art in hopes of improving outcomes for an intractable problem.”
The smart bandage provides real-time monitoring and delivery of treatment with limited intervention from the patient or caregivers.
So, how does it do that?
Key parameters for monitoring the healing process include: pH, which for normal healing wounds falls at 5.5 to 6.5, while a non-healing infected wound can have pH well above 6.5; and temperature, which offers information about the level of inflammation in and around the wound.
The smart bandages combine pH and temperature sensors with flexible sensors for oxygenation, which were developed by Sonkusale and his team, to monitor the healing process. Once the sensors collect the data, a microprocessor analyzes it and can release a drug.
The construct is attached to a transparent medical tape to form a flexible bandage less than 3 mm thick. The components were selected to keep the bandage low-cost and disposable, except for the reusable microprocessor.
“The smart bandage we created, with pH and temperature sensors and antibiotic drug delivery, is really a prototype for a wide range of possibilities,” Sonkusale said. “One can imagine embedding other sensing components, drugs and growth factors that treat different conditions in response to different healing markers.”
Although I don’t want to find myself needing one of these smart bandages any time soon, the possibilities that this prototype presents, as Sonkusale pointed out, are immense. Unless I become less clumsy, which is unlikely, I might find myself on the market for one of these solutions one day.