Imagine a ‘smart’ bandage that could heal chronic wounds from conditions like diabetes and complex injuries such as those sustained in combat, with the potential for different areas of biomedical engineering.
Engineers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have designed a bandage comprised of electrically conducive fibres. These fibres are coated in a hydrogel that can be individually loaded with different medications like antibiotics, tissue regenerating growth factors, and pain killers, among others.
Assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Ali Tamayol, said a bandage could be tailored to a specific type of wound.
“This is the first bandage that is capable of dose-dependent drug release,” he explained. “That’s a big advantage in comparison to other systems.”
Professor Tamayol, whose research interests include tissue engineering and regenerative medicine; biomanufacturing; micro/nanotechnologies; and wearable and automated systems; said a remedy for the cost and complexity of battle wounds needed to be found.
Existing bandages can passively release an embedded medication over time so the team pitted their research against contemporary offerings in a series of experiments. The smart bandage regrew three times as much blood-rich tissue critical to the healing process in mice while another experiment showed an antibiotic-loaded smart bandage could eradicate infection-causing bacteria.
How it works is a microcontroller, smaller than a postage stamp, would be triggered by a smartphone or other wireless device to send small amounts of voltage through a particular fibre in the bandage. The voltage heats up the fibre and its hydrogel which releases the medication it contains.
The team envisions the smart bandage could be used to initially treat chronic skin wounds such as those that stem from diabetes. Around 1.7 million Australians have the condition and the Australian Wound Innovation Centre estimates wounds affect 433,000, with a cost of $2.85 billion annually. Chronic wounds are also estimated to affect up to 5-10% of people in Australia over the age of 80 (about 3.5 million people).
While the engineering team has patented their smart bandage it will require further testing before getting to market. In the meantime, they are working to incorporate thread-based sensors which can measure glucose, pH and other health related indicators of skin tissue. If these can be integrated, smart bandages could autonomously deliver correct treatments to wounds.
The study’s findings have been published in the Advanced Functional Materials journal.
Image: A prototype of the smart design bandage. Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln.