Now researchers say they have come up with a device that could help such wounds heal: a stretchable, wireless, bioelectronic system that can stick to the skin.
“The device consists of two parts – one reusable flexible printed circuit board and one disposable patch,” said Dr Wei Gao, a co-author of the research from the California Institute of Technology. “The disposable patch contains biosensors, electrodes, and drug-loaded hydrogels.”
Most of the time, when someone gets cut, scraped, burnt or any other wound the body heals itself, but this is not always the case as diabetes can interfere with the healing process and result in wounds that do not go away, can become infected and fester.
The biosensors mean the “smart bandage” device can monitor features of the wound such as its temperature, pH, and levels of substances including glucose, uric acid and lactate – metrics that provide important insights into whether the wound is infected and its levels of inflammation.
The device allows for electrical stimulation to be applied – a technique previously found to encourage wounds to heal, but which has been hampered by bulky equipment. It also enables the controlled released of anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial drugs.
It may respond in three ways: Transmitting data collected from the wound wirelessly to a nearby computer, tablet or smartphone for patient or medical professional to check. Applying an antibiotic or any other medication stored in the bandage directly to the wound site to treat inflammation and infection. And last but not least, administering a low-intensity electric field to the wound to stimulate tissue growth and accelerate healing.
The team describe how they tested the smart bandages on wounds of diabetic mice and rats before and after infection, finding the devices were able to detect features including the temperature, glucose levels and pH of the wound fluid. These measurements changed as expected before and after the mice were given treatment.
Dr. Wei Gao said the results are promising and added that future research will focus on improving the bandage technology and testing it on human patients, whose therapeutic needs may differ from those of laboratory animals.