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Smart Bandage Monitors, Provides Drugs to Chronic Wounds

Smart bandage

Smart wound care bandage, with sensors at right, connecting to a microcontroller that dispenses medication. (Tufts University)

6 July 2018. An engineering team at Tufts University is developing a self-contained bandage with sensors that monitor the status of chronic wounds, and also dispenses medication as needed. A team from the nanotechnology lab of engineering professor Sameer Sonkusale on the Tufts campus in Medford, Massachusetts describes the device in today’s issue of the journal Small (paid subscription required).

Sonkusale’s Nanoscale Integrated Sensors and Circuits lab studies miniaturized systems for biomedical applications, particularly those reduced in size to nanoscale dimensions, where 1 nanometer equals 1 billionth of a meter. Researchers in the Nano Lab, as it’s called, investigate the use of low-power circuits, as well as soft and flexible electronics, which are needed to treat chronic wounds.

The need for these specialized treatments is felt particularly in people with diabetes, who develop slow-healing skin ulcers on their feet, a common complication of the disease. In people with diabetes, blood flow is reduced to the legs and feet, leading to nerve damage and reduced feeling in those regions, as well as slower healing of wounds. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in 2010, some 73,000 Americans required amputation of a leg or foot because of complications from diabetes. Another source of chronic wounds is pressure sores, a problem faced by people in wheelchairs or bed-ridden, where skin is damaged by staying in one position for too long.

For these chronic wounds, Sonkusale and colleagues configured a closed-loop device made of flexible, bio-friendly materials. The smart bandage device has sensors to measure acidity or alkaline levels as indicated by pH. A pH measure serves as a gauge of healing progress, where pH readings above a certain level indicate the wound is infected or healing too slowly. In addition, the device has a sensor to measure temperature, where higher temperatures indicate the presence of inflammation that inhibits healing, as well as a sensor for oxygen levels, another indicator of tissue repair.

The Tufts smart bandage also features a miniaturized drug dispensing mechanism. The device contains a hydrogel, a water-based polymer gel, containing antibiotics to treat the wound as needed. The hydrogel is designed to respond to heat, which releases the antibiotics when heated. The data from the sensors determine the need for dispensing medications. The sensor data are captured in a microcontroller, which triggers a tiny heating element in the device under specified conditions.

The researchers tested a proof-of-concept prototype of the smart bandage, which the authors say worked as planned in lab models and conditions. The team next plans to continue preclinical tests of the device with lab animals.

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