foot bandage in a hospital

Smart wireless bandages could help heal chronic wounds

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Stanford University researchers have combined wireless electrical stimulation and biosensors to create a new type of bandage that could treat slow-to-heal injuries.

The medical device designed at Standford University has shown promise in speeding up tissue repair by monitoring the wound healing process and treating the wound simultaneously.

The smart bandage is composed of wireless circuitry that uses temperature sensors to monitor the progression of wound healing. If the wound is less healed or an infection is detected, the sensors inform a central processing unit to apply more electrical stimulation across the wound bed to accelerate tissue closure and reduce infection.

The researchers were able to track the sensor data in real time on a smartphone, all without the need for wires. 

In a paper published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, the team said their device promotes faster closure of wounds, increases new blood flow to injured tissue, and enhances skin recovery by significantly reducing scar formation.

The device, thus, could be of great use for people suffering from infections, diseases like diabetes, and suppressed immune systems, which often lead to slow wound healing processes and costs of as much as $25bn a year.

“In sealing the wound, the smart bandage protects as it heals,” said Yuanwen Jiang, co-first author of the study. “But it is not a passive tool. It is an active healing device that could transform the standard of care in the treatment of chronic wounds.”

The bandage has a small electronic layer, including a microcontroller unit (MCU), radio antenna, memory, electrical stimulator, biosensors, and other components, just is just 100 microns thick — about the thickness of a single coat of latex paint.

All that circuitry rides atop a cleverly engineered hydrogel that is integrated to both deliver healing electrical stimulation to the injured tissue and collect real-time biosensor data. The polymer in the hydrogel is carefully designed to adhere securely to the wound surface when needed, yet to pull away cleanly and gently when warmed to just a few degrees above body temperature. 

Through electrical stimulation, also known as galvanotaxis, the scientists have been able to accelerate the migration of keratinocytes to the wound site, limiting bacterial infections and preventing the development of biofilms on wound surfaces, to proactively promote tissue growth. 

At the same time the wound heals, the smart bandage senses conductivity and temperature changes in the skin. 

“With stimulation and sensing in one device, the smart bandage speeds healing, but it also keeps track as the wound is improving,” said Artem Trotsyuk, co-first author of the study. “We think it represents a new modality that will enable new biological discovery and the exploration of previously difficult-to-test hypotheses on the human healing process.”

Currently, the smart bandage is only a proof of concept. In their next steps, the team will look at increasing the size of the device to human scale, reducing cost, and solving long-term data storage issues - all necessary to scale up to mass production.

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