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Smart Bandages to Revolutionize Treatment of Chronic Wounds

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 18 Jun 2024
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Image: The wearable bioelectronic system could improve chronic wound monitoring and healing (Photo courtesy of Wei Gao, California Institute of Technology)
Image: The wearable bioelectronic system could improve chronic wound monitoring and healing (Photo courtesy of Wei Gao, California Institute of Technology)

Chronic wounds, such as diabetic ulcers, surgical wounds, pressure injuries, and others, are more lethal than many realize. Patients with chronic wounds face a five-year survival rate of about 70%, which is worse than that of breast cancer, prostate cancer, and other major illnesses. Additionally, the cost of treating these wounds is substantial, estimated at USD 28 billion annually in the U.S. alone. In response, researchers are developing cutting-edge technologies to transform wound care, including smart bandages designed to automatically sense and adapt to changes within a wound. These advanced dressings could provide ongoing data on healing progress and potential complications like infections or unusual inflammation, and even administer treatments directly as needed.

In a proof-of-concept study, engineers at the Keck School of Medicine of USC (Los Angeles, CA, USA) have created and tested a smart bandage on animal models. They have developed a new type of 'cyber skin' that not only aids in healing wounds but also actively measures and manages the healing process, helping patients recover faster. The next-generation smart bandages are capable of wirelessly monitoring vital metabolic and inflammatory biomarkers in wound fluids. Unlike acute wounds, which follow a predictable path through injury, inflammation, and healing, chronic wounds are complex and unpredictable, posing a higher risk of infection, slower healing times, and potentially leading to severe complications like amputation or sepsis.

To advance their smart bandage technology, the team has integrated recent innovations from materials science, nanotechnology, digital health, and more. Their advanced smart bandage technology is set to enhance and actively participate in the healing process. Rather than using passive dressings, healthcare providers may soon utilize wireless technology-enabled smart dressings that detect signs of inflammation, infections, or blood flow issues. After gathering data, the smart bandage could analyze it using machine learning algorithms, facilitating prompt and effective monitoring and treatment, whether in a clinical setting or remotely. The bandage could communicate alerts and provide real-time treatments to patients and healthcare providers via Bluetooth.

This approach is similar to early detection of high cholesterol in heart disease, where treatment might begin with statins. More responsive wound care could not only save lives but also substantially improve the quality of life for many patients. Nearly half of individuals with chronic wounds meet the criteria for clinical depression, and many struggle daily with mobility, pain, and managing their wounds. Next, the team is exploring a novel wound care strategy utilizing ultrasound technology to direct gene therapy treatments aimed at stimulating blood vessel growth in calf muscles, potentially lowering the risk of amputation for patients with leg ulcers.

“What’s amazing is that in wound healing, we haven’t been using those interim measures. All we’ve done is the equivalent of measuring someone in the middle of a heart attack,” said David G. Armstrong, PhD, DPM, a professor of surgery and neurological surgery at the Keck School of Medicine. “Developing these interim companion diagnostics is critical.” 

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