Biophotonic 'smart bandages' show promise for wound management

Researchers at the University of South Australia (Adelaide, South Australia) have created a range of biosensors that can detect changes in a wound environment and alert a patient or medical staff by changing the color of the dressing or even sending a message to a smartphone.

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Prototypes have been developed for three different concepts: The first builds specially created sensors into polymers that can be produced as thin films and incorporated into the dressing material. These change color when the sensor detects changes in temperature or pH levels, which can indicate inflammation or infection. The approach uses photonics rather than potentially toxic chromophores or fluorophores. There are no dyes or chemicals, so the color comes from the way light interacts with the multilayered structure of the sensor.

In a related project, the researchers are investigating the potential for these smart dressings to automatically release a drug in response to changes in the wound environment; if the temperature of a wound reaches a certain level, for example, an antibiotic is dispensed.

The second concept uses a telemetric approach. Miniature electrical sensors incorporated into a dressing monitor changes in moisture levels in the wound or whether the pressure in a compression bandage has dropped below acceptable levels. The sensor contains a battery that connects via Bluetooth or a similar interface to a smartphone, which can in turn pass the message to another phone or a database.

“This would be invaluable to community nurses and others who monitor a number of patients in a number of places,” explains Professor Nico Voelcker, deputy director of the University’s Mawson Institute. “Rather than having to keep dropping in to check on a wound, they would be alerted if a dressing had become too wet to be effective or the pressure had dropped too much. And they would know whether to take immediate action or schedule it for the near future.”

The third concept is a point-of-care biosensor that can detect more complex parameters, such as the presence of bacteria or certain proteins and enzymes that are indicators of wound status. Medical staff would just need to drop a tiny amount of wound fluid onto the sensor and wait a couple of minutes for a result. So little fluid is needed that a test could be run every time a dressing is changed.

Voelcker and a team of nine have been working on the projects since being approached by the national Cooperative Research Centre for Wound Management Innovation (Kelvin Grove, Queensland, Australia) to bring their expertise in biosensors into the medical field.


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