When skin is moderately to seriously injured, bandaging is often necessary to keep the wound protected until it has a chance to heal. However, bacteria can infect a wound even if it is covered with a sterile dressing. This means the area needs to be inspected regularly to detect early signs of infection. A new material has been developed that will make it possible to identify wound infection without having to remove the bandage. Taking off the dressing is often a painful process and can be especially distressing for patients who get queasy easily. In addition, exposing a fresh wound to the air can mean unnecessary exposure to additional bacterial contaminants. This advance in medical fabric technology will give physicians, patients, and caregivers an easy and effective way to monitor healing.
What the Bandages Do
A research and development team in Munich, Germany has created an indicator dye that is sensitive to changes in pH. A pH below 5 (somewhat acidic) is the usual reading for healthy human skin. A shift toward a higher level of alkalinity in a wound site (above 6.5) is an indication that the tissue is responding abnormally. The bandage material is impregnated with this dye so that the fabric changes from yellow to purple to indicate a potential wound infection.
The researchers faced challenges in making sure the dye wouldn’t leach into the skin while still remaining sufficiently sensitive to changes in the chemistry of the wound area. These obstacles have been overcome and large scale testing in a clinical setting is the next step. The dressing will need to be mass produced before it is available to hospitals for use in patient care. If the bandages can be manufactured in a cost effective way and are determined to have no side effects, they might eventually be available for over the counter use. However, it is likely that a wound that requires this level of monitoring would still need to be initially treated by a physician.
More Exciting Innovations in Wound Care
Another type of intelligent wound dressing called the “Smart Bandage” is under development in Holland. This fabric contains printed electronic sensor technology to monitor wound healing. The photo-sensitive materials measure the oxygen level in the blood circulating around the wounded tissue. This information can be used to help determine when the bandage needs to be changed and how healing is progressing. Eventually, this technology may be further enhanced to include a wireless component that permits doctors to remotely monitor wound healing.