Researchers from Harvard Medical School, MIT, and the University of Nebraska have teamed up to create a smart bandage that can be filled with medicine to treat chronic wounds, such as painkillers and antibiotics. The medication is administered through 3D needles that are controlled remotely by a smartphone or another electronic device.
The smart bandage is made of electrically conductive fibers that are individually wrapped in a hydrogel that is loaded with medication. It can be used to deliver several drugs. The bandage can also be controlled from a distance to deliver precise amounts of the drugs at certain times.
To release the drugs from the bandage’s gel, fibers are heated up through a wireless device or a smartphone, which sends low levels of voltage through a unique fiber. The voltage causes the fibers to heat up and release the medication from the hydrogel.
According to Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Material Engineering at the University of Nebraska Doctor, Ali Tamayol, the bandage is the first of its kind that is capable of holding and releasing dose-dependent drugs.
Healthcare providers can release several drugs at different times. This is a big advantage when compared to other systems. Doctor Tamayol stated that the team came up with a strategy to build the bandage from the bottom up. The platform can be applied to so many different areas of medicine and biomedical engineering.
The team conducted several experiments to test the bandage. In one experiment, they applied the bandage with a growth factor and applied it to wounded mice. The bandage caused the mice to regrow three times the amount of blood-rich tissue when compared to a dry bandage.
In another experiment, the researchers proved that the bandage could effectively kill bacteria that cause infections by loading it with antibiotics. The researchers foresee this device as something that can be used to treat chronic skin wounds that commonly occur in diabetic patients.
Doctor Tamayol stated that the medical costs that usually accompany these types of treatment are tremendous. There is a large need to find a lower cost solution that still provides safe treatment methods. The bandage can also be used to help treat chronic wounds that soldiers face in combat.
Doctor Tamayol added that soldiers on the battlefield might be suffering from several different infections or injuries. They might also be dealing with many different pathogens. This would make a variable patch with the ability to contain different antidotes or drugs targeted to work toward specific environmental hazards an effective way to treat all hazards.
The research team patented their device and are working on ways to incorporate sensors that can be used to measure acidity, blood sugar levels, and other abilities.
Chronic wounds and wounds that do not heal on their own are common in the United States. According to a paper that researchers who worked on this project put out, chronic wounds are one of the most devastating complications of diabetes. They may also lead to limb amputation and can affect millions of Americans annually. The need to develop proper treatment is great.
The smart bandage can be controlled wirelessly from a number of electronic devices, including smartphones, to deliver precise medications to help assist with wound healing remotely. The bandage contains small 3D needles that are controlled wirelessly, which allows patients to be treated by a physician even without being near the patient.
Doctor Tamayol stated that the badge does not need to be changed continuously, making the treatment process even simpler to treat remotely. Patients can leave the bandage on and trust that their doctor will distribute the medication as needed to correctly treat their wounds. This is an important step in engineering advanced bandages that can be used in the treatment of other ailments as well, according to Doctor Tamayol.
Because there are several processes that are necessary to treat wounds, different medications are required at different stages to promote tissue regeneration. The bandage is a wearable device that delivers medicine with minimal invasiveness, causing no pain or hassle for the patient.
The platform works by allowing a physician to wirelessly control the release of several drugs through these miniature 3D needles. Although they are small, the needles penetrate deep into the different layers of the skin without provoking inflammation or excessive pain.
The new bandage has been shown to be more effective at treating wound closure and hair growth when compared to topical applications, which do not penetrate deep into the skin where healing is needed. The minimally invasive procedure also heals wounds faster than topical applications.
The results of the study are published in the Advanced Functional Materials journal. The researchers first conducted their experiments on cells and then moved onto diabetic mice with full thickness skin injuries later.
The results found that mice started to show signs of complete healing without any scar formation. The bandage was also able to significantly improve the quality and rate of wound healing in diabetic mice.
This new device can help potentially replace existing techniques used to treat wounds and significantly reduce the morbidity associated with chronic wounds. It also has the potential to change the way patients with diabetes are treated.
Despite its small size, the new bandage could help heal wounds three times faster than ordinal dry bandages. According to an article published by the University of Nebraska, the micro-controller is no bigger than a postage stamp.
It releases its cargo when small amounts of voltage are sent through to a particular fiber. The hydrogel that holds the medication can hold and release any given medication, which is promising for the future treatment of diabetic-related wounds.
The team imagines that the smart bandage can be used to treat diabetic wounds, which affects more than 25 million Americans. An estimated 25 percent of adults in the United States who are 65 years and older are also affected by chronic skin wounds. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of diabetes cases will double or triple by 2050.
Diabetes wounds may occur on the feet and legs. According to the AMPA, diabetic foot ulcers are open sores or wounds that occur in approximately 15 percent of people with diabetes. They are commonly located on the bottom of the foot. The AMPA states that of those who develop a foot wound or ulcer, approximately 6 percent will be hospitalized due to infection or other complications related to the ulcer.
Additionally, diabetes is the leading cause of non-traumatic lower extremity amputations in the United States. The AMPA estimates that approximately 14 to 25 percent of people with diabetes who develop wounds on their feet will require an amputation. Foot ulcerations account for approximately 85 percent of diabetes-induced amputations. The AMPR stated that many of these amputations are preventable.
Researchers of the new device hope to be able to help prevent these complications in an affordable way. Many of the procedures used to treat diabetes foot ulcers can be costly. The new device also does not cause pain. However, research shows that many diabetic patients who develop foot ulcers lose the ability to feel pain.
Treatment of diabetic foot ulcers may include prevention of infection, taking pressure off the area (known as off-loading), removing the dead skin and tissue around the ulcer (called debridement), applying medications and dressings to the ulcer, and managing blood sugar levels and other related health problems.
The new bandage could help diabetes patients treat their foot ulcers without having to see a doctor regulatory or change their bandages, which can be hard to reach for some patients. Ulcers that become infected are even harder to treat. It includes keeping blood sugar levels under tight control, keeping the area cleaned and bandaged, cleansing and applying medicine daily, and avoiding walking barefoot.
According to Doctor Tamayol, soldiers in battle may benefit from similar treatments. The new bandage is versatile and customizable, which means that it can be used to stimulate faster healing in bullet and shrapnel wounds. It can also present the onset of infection in remote environments when soldiers cannot necessarily see a doctor regularly.
Although the bandage has proven to be effective in animal studies, it will need to be put through human trials before it can go to the market. This could take several years. However, many of the device’s designs are already approved by the Food and Drug Administration, which could help streamline the process.
In the meantime, the team is working on incorporating sensors into the bandage that can measure blood sugar, pH, and other indicators of health within the skin tissue. This technology would further expand the use of the bandage. The project was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the University of Nebraska‐Lincoln, and the Nebraska Tobacco Settlement Biomedical Research Enhancement Funds. The corresponding paper published by the research team was issued online on March 26, 2020.