July 9 (UPI) -- Researchers have designed a prototype smart bandage that can monitor chronic wounds and deliver medication aimed at improved healing.
Engineers at Tufts University have tested the bandages in a lab, and have started pre-clinical trials, to gauge their efficacy for treatment of chronic skin wounds from burns, diabetes and other conditions. Their findings were have been published in the journal Small.
Chronic wound care affects about 5.7 million people in the United States at an annual cost of $20 billion.
Tufts researchers noted many patients are unable to provide self-care, and their non-healing wounds are treated in an outpatient setting or at home by a caregiver.
Compared to traditional bandages with passive treatment, the researchers developed a smart bandage concept that includes heating elements and thermoresponsive drug carriers that can deliver tailored treatments.
The bandages, which respond to embedded pH and temperature sensors that track infection and inflammation, are less than 3 millimeters thick. All the materials, except for a microprocessor, can be re-used.
"We've been able to take a new approach to bandages because of the emergence of flexible electronics," corresponding co-author Dr. Sameer Sonkusale, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Tufts University's School of Engineering, said in a press release. "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."
In wound care, the pH and temperature of a chronic wound needs to be monitored. The smart bandages combine pH and temperature sensors, allowed for continuous monitoring of wounds.
In addition, they developed flexible sensors for oxygenation -- another marker of healing. In addition to heat, the bandages can track inflammation using specific biomarkers.
With a microprocessor reading data from the sensors, drugs can then be released from the bandages carriers by heating an included gel.
"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."