This biodegradable “smart” dressing offers faster healing

We’re used to putting band-aids or gauze on cuts and other wounds, but researchers are also exploring high-tech ideas. Micro-thin smart bandages show promise as a potential new method of medical treatment for patients suffering from chronic wounds such as diabetic ulcers. Like some of the tech that preceded it, the latest iteration uses electrotherapy to speed up healing time, but takes it a step further – it’s able to safely biodegrade once its task is complete.

Developed by researchers at Northwestern University and detailed in a study published this week scientific advancesThe project’s tests – previously only in mice – resulted in the first bioresorbable dressing delivering electrotherapy and the first example of an intelligent regenerative system.

[Related: A micro-thin smart bandage can quickly heal and monitor wounds.]

Between 15 and 20 percent of people with diabetes will develop an ulcer at some point in their lives. These injuries often go unnoticed due to diabetic nerve damage and slow to heal due to reduced blood flow. The longer these sores remain open or partially healed, the more likely they are to develop serious, sometimes life-threatening, complications and infections.

To deal with this, electrotherapy is a method of stimulating the healing process by attracting new blood flow to a wound, but the tools and medical instruments required for treatment have long been bulky and wired (because a power source is required). , and limited to monitored hospital settings. Smart electrical bandages could soon be an alternative, saving patients time, money and lengthy visits to the doctor.

And this is how it works: The new, flexible bandage encloses the wound site and has electrodes on both sides of the material. The inside includes an electrode that sits on top of the injury itself, while its annular partner surrounds the wound. On the other side is a coil for power generation next to a Near Field Communication (NFC) system for wireless data transmission. Since electrical currents ideally support the healing process, additional sensors keep an eye on the progress and can warn the doctor of problems or complications.

[Related: This vibrating magnetic pill could one day help measure your guts.]

During the development phase, the team realized that electrodes made from incredibly thin layers of the metal molybdenum could safely biodegrade over time without impeding the healing process. In their studies of applying the new bandages to mice with diabetic ulcers, the team found that most of the metal can be absorbed by the rodents within six months, with very little accumulating in the organs of the test animals. In addition, healing times increased by up to 30 percent from just 30 minutes per day of electrotherapy stimulation.

Once larger animal trials are completed, the team hopes to move on to human trials. Because the system contains no drugs or controlled materials, it is possible for the dressing to enter the public sector much sooner than other treatment options that require FDA approval.

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