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Prototype of smart drug delivering bandage

Smartphone-controlled bandage releases drugs to help wounds heal

Image credit: Advanced Functional Materials

Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Harvard Medical School and MIT have developed a smart bandage capable of releasing medications into a wound when commanded with a smartphone app.

The people unlucky enough to suffer chronic wounds face painful recoveries: these wounds do not heal evenly, so therapeutic factors must be rubbed into the wound at various stages in order to help them heal.

The development of a smart bandage capable of releasing precise doses of antibiotics, painkillers, growth factors and other drugs when required could make this healing process more efficient and comfortable.

The bandage, chiefly developed by University of Nebraska researchers, consists of electrically conductive fibres coated in a gel which can be loaded with different types of medication. These are assembled with textile processors to create a soft, flexible bandage.

The bandage contains a microcontroller approximately the size of a postage stamp. This can be triggered with a wireless signal from a smartphone to deliver a small voltage across a selected fibre. The current heats the fibre and its hydrogel, causing the medication contained inside to be released.

According to the researchers, a single bandage could contain a range of fibres filled with different medications, depending on what is appropriate for that particular wound: the types and doses of the drugs – as well as their time of their delivery – can be precisely controlled.

This customisability is what sets the Nebraska team’s bandage aside from other smart dressings which are capable of gradually releasing drugs over time (for instance, a smart plaster containing stem cells to help skin heal).

“This is the first bandage that is capable of dose-dependent drug release,” said Professor Ali Tamayol, a professor of mechanical and materials engineering at the University of Nebraska. “That’s a big advantage in comparison with other systems. What we did here was come up with a strategy for building a bandage from the bottom up.”

“This is a platform that can be applied to many different areas of biomedical engineering and medicine.”

They hope it could improve the treatment of chronic skin wounds relating to diabetes: this disease is on the rise in the US, with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention estimating that diagnoses may double or even triple by 2050. A smart bandage could play an important part in the cost-effective treatment of many patients.

Professor Tamayol also suggests that the smart bandage could be applied to battlefield injuries, where wounded soldiers could use it to recover more quickly from bullet and shrapnel wounds while preventing infection in unsterile environments.

“Soldiers on the battlefield may be suffering from a number of different injuries or infections,” said Professor Tamayol. “They might be dealing with a number of different pathogens. Imagine that you have a variable patch that has antidotes or drugs targeted toward specific hazards in the environment.”

The researchers have conducted several tests of this bandage in animals models. In one trial, the engineers embedded the bandage with growth factor and applied it to wounds on mice. Compared to an ordinary, dry bandage, the smart bandage helped the wounds heal far more effectively, with the growth of three times as much blood-rich tissue.

The product – which has now been patented – will undergo further animal and human testing before it can be brought to market, but already, one of its components has gained approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

In the meantime, the researchers are working to incorporate thread-based sensors which could monitor pH, glucose levels and other indicators of tissue health. If this monitor could be paired with the bandage, it could allow for the creation of a fully autonomous smart bandage.

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