Smart Chip with a Healing Touch

Smart Chip with a Healing Touch

Turning the bandage into something more than just a “covering” allows passive monitoringas well as active healing – all thanks to smart electronics

Whenever we speak of smart technology or microchips, we mostly think of various lifestyle gadgets around us. Butmicroelectronics is being put to amazing uses in areas that were previously unimaginable. One such use is the smart bandage, which is recently making waves in healthcare – more so because AI technology is now being harnessed to it as well. The results are remarkable and possibilities endless.

Understanding the healing process

Healing of a wound is a normal biological process that happens on its own.However, not always will things go right, and the healing cycle might get disrupted – impairing the body’s ability to recover from even a minor wound. This is all the more crucial in today’s world of increasing antibiotic-resistance. Disrupted healing causes severe pain, reduces mobility and overall quality of life, and eventually to sepsis and fatal consequences in extreme cases.

Optimal wound healing requires a delicate balance of various chemical and physical factors.Bandages aim to provide a stable environment needed for tissue repair. However, conventional wound coverings are often not adequate, and a need was long being felt of turning the bandage into something more than just a “covering”. This is the space which smart bandages fill in.Patients with chronic, slow-healing wounds can benefit immensely from the use of smart bandages as these enable the caregiver to better control the factors contributing to unsatisfactory recovery.

Image: Flexible microchip for smart bandages; Source:Nature Biotechnology;
Image courtesy:The University of Arizona

What is a smart bandage anyway?

The concept of the smart bandage stems from the potentials of flexible electronics. The idea of using flexible electronics for clinical solutions was being explored ever since 2018 in two biomedical engineering labs at Stanford University. Later, the activity shifted to the University of Arizona College of Medicine. The resulting technology that we now haveis a smart bandage comprising a thin electrical layer embedded with various sensors, wireless circuitry, and an electronic stimulator. Underneath is a layer of hydrogel, a skin-like substance that adheres to the wound. This entire contraption is meant to measure the healing progress of a wound and also to actively assist in the healing process.

By definition, smart bandages are wound coverings that incorporate technology to help optimise the tissue repair process. From a technical point of view, such contactless multi-intelligent wearable technology allowsmonitoring ofstubborn wounds and creates optimal opportunities for healthcare providers toaccelerate prognosis.

How does it work?

Such bandages function via various sensors which detect, record and regulate physical and chemical factors that affect the rate of wound healing. This is achieved by integrating a thin layer of flexible electronics within the bandage which can detect and interpret different changes and fluctuations at the wound site that goes on throughout the healing process. The most standard sensors housed by the microchip includes thermal sensors to measure temperature at the site, oxygen saturation sensors, pressure sensors to monitor wound pressure, and pH sensorsto check whether the site is acidic or alkaline.

In more advanced versions, the microchip can be AI-powered – resulting in aflexible artificial intelligence-guiding wearable sensor that can be operated with a deep artificial neural network algorithm for chronic wound monitoring via short-range communication.

Active healing plus passive monitoring

Passive monitoring is just one of the uses of a smart bandage. The other, more crucial use is active interference to encourage the healing process. Various applications of smart bandages can be harnessed to facilitate controlled wound healing. Sample the following:

  • Depending on the condition of the wound, smart bandages with pressure sensors can be adjusted as required to apply the right amount of pressure at the site of the injury. This facilitates efficient and optimised wound repair.
  • The acidity of a wound can affect its rate of resolution.Readings from the pH sensor in a smart bandage can let the doctors decide whether toregulate the acidity around the wound toneutraliseany imbalances.
  • Smart bandages can deliver electrical stimuli into the wound toinhibit bacterial growth by disrupting biofilms.Such electrical stimulation also promotes the development of new blood vessels within and around the wound, leading to better tissue perfusion and faster repair.
  • Medication-impregnated microbeads can be incorporated into the smart bandage substrate. This enables immediate delivery of medicines directly at the wound site as and when required – triggered real-time by changes in the wound.

A unique telehealth tool

Information storage, data analysis and communication are other advantages that are in-built to smart bandages. All information gathered from the wound site can be stored within the microchip embedded within the smart bandage. Storage, and recording of useful wound care data helps analyse patient records and can contribute to future research – in addition to the immediate need of patient care. The information can also be transmitted to any remote device real time. This makes the smart bandage a unique telehealth tool that allows doctors to continuously monitor their patients’ wounds from a remote location.

Scientists are further refining the smart bandage technology to explore additional benefits. Be ready for more surprises!

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