Engineers from Tufts University have developed a prototype smart bandage that can actively monitor chronic wounds and automatically deliver drug treatments to improve the chances of healing.

The smart bandage could be used to treat chronic diseases such as burns and diabetes.

In the UK, approximately 4.5% of the population are treated for wounds a year, costing the NHS £5.3bn.

The figure is even higher in the US, with nearly 15% of Medicare beneficiaries requiring treatment for chronic wounds and infections, at an estimated cost of $28bn annually.

Patients are typically older and have limited mobility, with care often provided at home. Smart bandages could provide real-time monitoring and deliver treatments with minimal human intervention.

How does the smart bandage work?

The smart bandage contains a pH and temperature sensor that sends data from the wound to a microprocessor.

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If the pH level gets too high, the microprocessor heats a gel containing the drug, which releases it onto the wound. These components are attached to a transparent medical tape, which forms a flexible bandage less than 3mm thick.

smart bandage

The team also developed flexible sensors for oxygenation, another indicator of healing, which can be integrated into the bandage.

According to Tuft University’s Sameer Sonkusale, a co-author of the study, the smart bandage is possible thanks to advances in flexible electronics.

“Flexible electronics have made many wearable medical devices possible, but bandages have changed little since the beginnings of medicine,” he said.

“We are simply applying modern technology to an ancient art in the hopes of improving outcomes for an intractable problem.”

Components were specifically chosen to keep the bandage low-cost and disposable. The microprocessor, however, can be re-used.

Researchers have successfully tested the smart bandage in lab conditions, with pre-clinical studies currently underway.

Sonkusale’s team are not the only scientists developing smart bandages. In 2017, scientists from the University of Bath developed a smart bandage that can detect infections.

Recently, researchers developed an injectable bandage made from a gelling agent commonly used for preparing pastries.