'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

February 08,2016

Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians.

As evidenced by increasingly popular wearable devices such as smart watches and fitness trackers, sensors of all kinds are getting smaller and more sensitive.

At the same time, scientists are constantly coming up with new materials, such as so-called ‘hydrogels’ that closely resemble human skin.

Combining these two advances, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology created a stretchy polymer with stiffness similar to human soft tissues.

Titanium wires embedded in a zig-zag pattern easily stretch without breaking contact with miniature sensors.

Researchers were also able to create a strong bond between the electronic sensors and the polymer.

“We further embed electronic devices such as sensors, such as different drug delivery devices, into this matrix to achieve what we call the smart applications," said Xuanhe Zhao, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering.

The combination amounts to a kind of “smart wound dressing” that can react to changes in the skin around it.

“Once the sensor senses an abnormal increase in temperature, for example, It will send out a command. Then the controlled drug delivery system can deliver a specific drug to that specific location," said Zhao.

Medication quickly spreads across the bandage through tiny channels.

Embedded LED lights could alert patients and doctors to changes at particular spots. Researchers say the new polymer will be suitable for application both on the skin and inside the body.