Advanced wounds, referring to those that are non-healing for more than 4 weeks, are on the rise around the world. This is because there are an increasing number of people with poor wound healing ability, including the rising number of elderly people over 65 years of age, and the rising number of people with Type 2 diabetes. In fact, though wound care technologies are improving, it has been reported that the annual number of 'below-the-knee' amputations, a result of infected non-healing wounds, is on the rise in both the United Kingdom and the United States of America. There is a need for technological advancements in advanced wound care to successfully treat this growing problem in a cost-effective way. One method is to integrate electronics into the process and create smart bandages.
One of the smart capabilities that bandages can fulfil is the monitoring of the wound healing process. The wound environment presents vastly different characteristics at different phases of the wound healing cycle, which can be detected by smart bandages. By closely monitoring the wound environment, a caregiver can obtain useful information about the wound healing process without uncovering the bandage more than necessary. Though uncovering the wound is a painful process for the patient and takes up the time of a skilled caregiver, it is important to keep track of the wound healing process so that timely intervention can be applied to stalled wounds. Smart bandages can solve this problem.
An example of such a product is currently in development at the University of Nottingham in the UK. Researchers have received funding to start work on a disposable dressing that utilizes fiber optic sensors to monitor biomarkers such as temperature, humidity and pH. Another smart bandage in the news recently comes from researchers at the State University of New York at Binghamton. They have published on wearable electrochemical biosensors that can monitor lactate and oxygen levels within wounds. The IDTechEx report Advanced Wound Care Technologies 2018 - 2028 discusses several other examples of smart bandages for wound monitoring.
In addition to monitoring the progress of wound healing, bandages can also take a more active role to accelerate wound healing. Bandages are designed to stay in contact with the wound and can thus provide constant and localized treatment.
A simple use of electronics in wound treatment is to apply electrical pulses. Researchers at The Ohio State University have reported that electroceutical wound dressings can be used to treat biofilm infections by disrupting and killing bacteria. This finding is important, as bacterial infections can delay wound healing, and often are the cause of amputations. Taking this a step further, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have reported on a self-powered bandage that harvests energy from the patient's movements during breathing to produce electrical pulses at the wound site.
The Future of Smart Bandages
Finally, if we combine the two applications of monitoring and treatment together, we approach what the future of smart bandages holds. Recently, researchers at Tufts University have published their work on a smart bandage that both monitors and treats chronic wounds. The device utilizes a combination of temperature and pH sensors for monitoring of wound healing status and a thermo-responsive hydrogel that can be activated to release drugs on demand. Development of smart bandages that accomplish both monitoring and treatment may have limited impact on the wound care market at first, but there is certainly an unmet need in the most severe and traumatic wounds. Such technologies can drastically improve the outcomes for this small set of patients.
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Top image: Wound Care Advisor