Electronic bandage speeds up healing by 30 per cent
Image credit: NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY
A flexible, stretchable bandage that accelerates healing by delivering electrotherapy directly to the wound site has been developed by researchers from Northwestern University, Illinois.
In an animal study, the bandage healed diabetic ulcers 30 per cent faster than in mice without the bandage.
It also actively monitors the healing process and then harmlessly dissolves into the body after it is no longer needed – even including the electronic components.
The new device could provide a powerful tool for patients with diabetes, whose ulcers can lead to various complications, including amputated limbs or even death.
“When a person develops a wound, the goal is always to close that wound as quickly as possible,” said Northwestern’s Guillermo A Ameer, who co-led the study.
“Otherwise, an open wound is susceptible to infection. And, for people with diabetes, infections are even harder to treat and more dangerous.
“For these patients, there is a major unmet need for cost-effective solutions that really work for them. Our new bandage is cost-effective, easy to apply, adaptable, comfortable and efficient at closing wounds to prevent infections and further complications.”
“Although it’s an electronic device, the active components that interface with the wound bed are entirely resorbable,” said Northwestern’s John A Rogers, who co-led the study. “As such, the materials disappear naturally after the healing process is complete, thereby avoiding any damage to the tissue that could otherwise be caused by physical extraction.”
Nearly 30 million people in the USA have diabetes, and about 15 to 25 per cent of that population develops a diabetic foot ulcer at some point in their lives.
Because diabetes can cause nerve damage that leads to numbness, people with diabetes might experience a simple blister or small scratch that goes unnoticed and untreated.
As high glucose levels also thicken capillary walls, blood circulation slows, making it more difficult for these wounds to heal, which can mean that small injuries evolve into dangerous wounds.
The researchers were curious to see if electrical stimulation therapy could help close these stubborn wounds.
According to Ameer, injuries can disrupt the body’s normal electrical signals. By applying electrical stimulation, it restores the body’s normal signals, attracting new cells to migrate to the wound bed.
“Our body relies on electrical signals to function,” Ameer explained. “We tried to restore or promote a more normal electrical environment across the wound. We observed that cells rapidly migrated into the wound and regenerated skin tissue in the area. The new skin tissue included new blood vessels, and inflammation was subdued.”
Historically, clinicians have used electrotherapy for healing. But most of that equipment includes wired, bulky apparatuses that can only be used under supervision in a hospital setting.
The smart bandage is a lot smaller – on one side is the regenerative system, which contains two electrodes. The other side of the device contains an energy-harvesting coil to power the system and a near-field communication (NFC) system to transport data wirelessly in real time.
The team also included sensors that can assess how well the wound is healing. By measuring the resistance of the electrical current across the wound, physicians can monitor progress. A gradual decrease of current measurement relates directly to the healing process. So, if the current remains high, then physicians know something is wrong.
By building in these capabilities, the device can be operated remotely without wires. From afar, a physician can decide when to apply the electrical stimulation and can monitor the wound’s healing progress.
“As a wound tries to heal, it produces a moist environment,” Ameer said. “Then, as it heals, it should dry up. Moisture alters the current, so we are able to detect that by tracking electrical resistance in the wound. Then, we can collect that information and transmit it wirelessly. With wound care management, we ideally want the wound to close within a month. If it takes longer, that delay can raise concerns.”
In a small animal model study, the researchers applied electrical stimulation for just 30 minutes a day which was shown to accelerate the closure by 30 per cent, they said.
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