A new ‘smart bandage’ in development could cut wound healing times by up to 50%
Authored by: Ms Amber Spurway
Andrew N. Liveris Academy for Innovation and Leadership at The University of Queensland, Brisbane.
Unfortunately, almost all of us have had to deal with healing a wound at some point in time, and it’s never a quick or easy process. Some hard-to-heal wounds such as blast wounds from explosions or diabetic ulcers can even take weeks or months to heal, leading to annual Medicare costs of $28 billion associated with wound healing in the United States1. However, this lengthy process is set to become a lot quicker thanks to a team of researchers from UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz and Tufts University who have combined forces to develop a ‘smart bandage’ which could cut wound healing times by up to 50%.
With the help of a $16 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), they are utilising a combination of different innovative technologies, including bioelectronics (the combination of electronic devices and biological systems) and machine learning, to create a flexible bandage which will be able to actively heal wounds while also monitoring their recovery.
The plan is for the bandage to provide ions, growth factors (molecules which can stimulate cell growth and healing) and other small molecules which will aid the recovery of the wound and increase healing time. The human body creates electric fields and generates a current in response to a wound, and this process has been suggested to play a significant part in wound healing2. By adding ions as charged particles, the bandage will hopefully be able to speed up the healing process by regulating the electrochemical environment of the wound in order to cut down recovery time.
Additionally, the bandage will contain optical sensors which are able to monitor the wound and send information through to an artificial intelligence (AI) system. The AI will then be able to interpret this information and determine an appropriate response to increase healing, which it can then carry out. Medical professionals can then also access this information to obtain a status update on the healing process.
This integration of artificial intelligence with the bioelectronics of the bandage is particularly innovative in that it allows the bandage to monitor the wound and determine the best response in order to maximise healing. Principal investigator Marco Rolandi expands on this by saying “What’s unique about this project is we want to close the loop between sensing and stimulating, so that there is feedback between the wound and the intelligent bandage”3.
The development of this technology is extremely exciting as it paves the way for future innovation in the field of synthetic biology, and could help conceive new technologies in the healthcare industry that incorporate multiple different fields such as AI and machine learning. Eventually, this could lead to the creation of career opportunities related to the management of AI in medicine and redefine a doctors role in the treatment process. The innovative nature of this smart bandage is only possible as a result of the work between different research departments and professionals, and The Baskin School of Engineering dean Alexander Wolf says of the project that “This collaboration… is a wonderful example of the creativity that comes of interdisciplinary research”3. Hopefully this type of project will set a precedent of creativity and collaboration for further innovation, and make that recovery just a little bit easier!