The lab of Wei Gao, assistant professor of medical engineering, developed these smart bandages. Gao also serves as Heritage Medical Research Institute Investigator and Ronald and JoAnne Willens Scholar.
“There are many different types of chronic wounds, especially in diabetic ulcers and burns that last a long time and cause huge issues for the patient,” Gao said. “There is a demand for technology that can facilitate recovery.”
Gao’s lab developed the bandages from a flexible and stretchy polymer containing embedded electronics and medication. These differ from a typical bandage that might only consist of layers of absorbent material. In the Caltech lab’s case, the electronics allow the sensor to monitor for molecules like uric acid or lactate. The sensor can also monitor conditions like pH level or temperature in the wound that may indicate inflammation or bacterial infection.
This bandage can respond in one of three ways, according to the team. It can transmit gathered data from the wound wirelessly to a nearby computer, tablet or smartphone for review by the patient or medical professional. Second, it can deliver an antibiotic or other medication stored within the bandage directly to the wound site. This can treat inflammation and infection. Finally, it can apply a low-level electrical field to the wound. This can stimulate tissue growth, resulting in faster healing.
In animal models under laboratory conditions, the bandages proved capable of providing real-time updates about wound conditions and the animals’ metabolic states to researchers. They also demonstrated speed in healing chronically infected wounds similar to those found in humans. Gao and the team expect a future collaboration with the Keck School of Medicine of USC to further the research. They aim to focus on improving the bandage technology and test it on human patients.
“We have showed this proof of concept in small animal models, but down the road, we would like to increase the stability of the device but also to test it on larger chronic wounds because the wound parameters and microenvironment may vary from site to site,” Gao said.
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