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Smart bandages could revolutionise treatment of chronic wounds

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Researchers in the US are developing a new range of wound care technologies, including smart bandages that would automatically sense and respond to changing conditions inside a wound.

The high-tech dressings would provide continuous data on healing and potential complications, including infections or abnormal inflammation, and could deliver medications or other treatments in real time.

The USC-Caltech team has developed and tested a smart bandage in animal models in a proof-of-concept study.

They have now published a review of that research, as well as other cutting-edge wound monitoring and treatment work being done around the world, in the journal Nature Materials.

The review also assesses challenges and next steps for delivering these technologies to patients, including the outlook for regulatory approval and commercialisation.

Co-senior author David G. Armstrong, PhD, DPM is a professor of surgery and neurological surgery at the Keck School of Medicine and co-director of the Southwestern Academic Limb Salvage Alliance (SALSA).

He said: “We’re creating a new kind of ‘cyber skin’ that can help these wounds heal, while measuring and managing them along the way.

“This paper combines these recent insights to chart a way forward in the wound healing space, so that we can move quickly to help our patients recover.”

To refine smart bandage technology, Armstrong and his team have leveraged new breakthroughs from the fields of materials science, nanotechnology, digital health and more.

Other recent changes, including more funding for wound healing research and an improved path toward regulatory approval, have also paved the way for progress.

Wei Gao, PhD is an assistant professor of medical engineering at Caltech and co-senior author of the paper.

The researcher said: “We have been developing next-generation smart bandages that can wirelessly monitor crucial metabolic and inflammatory biomarkers in wound fluids.

“Going forward, these interdisciplinary collaborations among scientists, engineers and clinical experts—with patients at the centre—will play a crucial role in better wound care outcomes.”

While acute wounds progress through a typical process of injury, inflammation and healing, chronic wounds are more complex and less predictable.

They carry a higher risk of infection, can take longer to heal, and may lead to amputation or life-threatening complications, such as sepsis.

One potential remedy is new smart bandage technology that can aid—and even participate in—the healing process.

Instead of applying a passive dressing to a patient’s wound, clinicians could soon use wireless technology that detects inflammation, infections or problems with blood flow, then alerts patients and health care providers via Bluetooth while administering real-time treatment.

Armstrong and his team have tested the new technology in animal models, with promising results.

“This closed-loop system can identify a problem, diagnose it automatically, and deliver a solution, all with patient and clinician oversight,” he said.

Smart bandages are built using a variety of cutting-edge materials, including bioelectronic materials, which can help with healing by delivering electrical stimulation to tissues and cells.

Many incorporate advanced hydrogels, which are soft, flexible, and capable of storing and releasing drugs in response to pH, temperature or other environmental factors.

Next-generation dressings also contain various types of sensors that can detect changes in the microenvironment of a wound.

Electrochemical sensors can measure the presence of proteins, antibodies, nutrients and electrolytes, while optical sensors can monitor temperature, pH and oxygen levels.

Imaging sensors, including photography, ultrasound and fluorescence imaging, can detect bacterial infections and measure the depth and volume of a wound to track healing progress.

Image: Wei Gao, California Institute of Technology

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