Smart bandage prototype monitors wound, delivers medication

By Dave Muoio
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A team of researchers from Tufts University, Harvard Medical School, and Purdue University, have presented academia’s latest take on the smart bandage. Recently described in the journal  and so far tested only in vitro, the novel wound dressing is flexible, monitors the wearer’s wound in real time, and can administer a drug either on demand or in accordance to individual treatment protocols.

“We’ve been able to take a new approach to bandages because of the emergence of flexible electronics,” Sameer Sonkusale, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Tufts University’s School of Engineering and corresponding co-author for the study, said 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 the hopes of improving outcomes for an intractable problem.”

Built for chronic skin wounds resulting from burns, diabetes, or other non-traumatic conditions, the bandage was designed to monitor a wound and actively assist with recovery. To do so, the researchers embedded pH and temperature sensors within the prototype dressing to identify changes that are indicative infection or inflammation. Additionally, according to a statement, the team has also developed similar sensors for oxygenation that could be integrated into a similar bandage.

Paired with these sensors is a microprocessor that interprets the sensor’s reading and can communicate with a mobile device via Bluetooth. When triggered by a user or by specific sensor reading parameters, this module can activate heaters that release treatment from the bandage to the skin.

Each component is attached to transparent medical tape to form a bandage less than three millimeters thick, according to the researchers, with everything but the reusable being low cost 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,” Sonkusale said. “One can imagine embedding other sensing components, drugs, and growth factors that treat different conditions in response to different healing markers.”

The researchers report that the bandages have so far performed well under in vitro conditions, and according to a statement are currently being explored in pre-clinical studies.

Smart bandages have been a long-standing goal for researchers and innovators trying to give established medical technologies a facelift. Among the most recent attempts was to eliminate bacterial infection on demand in vitro.