3D-Printed Smart Sensor Bandages

Professor Steve Morgan and his team at the University of Nottingham are working on a smart sensor bandage to improve healthcare. Equipped with sensors, the wound dressing is able to monitor the patients’ health status and transmit it directly to the patient and the doctors.

Wound management is a big expense factor in every healthcare system. Diabetic foot ulcers account for about 20 percent of these costs, as the hard-to-heal wounds need continuous and very careful care. A new smart wound dressing, invented by a team of researchers from the University of Nottingham, with automatic healing monitoring could possibly reduce costs and lower limb amputations.

A Hightech Wound Dressing

Professor Steve Morgan and his team from the Centre for Healthcare Technologies at the University of Nottingham, received 900.000 British pounds from the Medical Research Council to realize their innovative project. The disposable bandage uses fibre optic sensors and an opto-electronic unit via smartphone connection to monitor various biomarkers, such as temperature, humidity and the pH value.

“We can develop a real step change in the care of chronic wounds… providing a more complete picture of the healing process,” said centre director professor Steve Morgan.

The sensors will be created with light, flexible, low-cost optical fibres. With a diameter of roughly 100 microns, they will be put into fabric that will look and feel like normal bandages. Connected with the reusable opto-electronic unit, the wound dressing is able to send information to the patients and doctors.

Although the new bandage will cost more than common wound dressings, the higher initial costs will be offset with the result effects, as the wound will heal better and most probably faster. This reduces dressing changes and clinical visits, which lowers the costs and helps the patient.

3D Printed Bandages

Although the smart sensor bandage from Nottingham is innovative, it’s not the first of its kind. In 2017 a team of researchers from the Institute of Life Science at the Swansea University, created a 3D-printed smart bandage with similar abilities. With built-in nano-sized sensors and a 5G wireless function, the wound dressing transmits data about healing process and the patient’s activity directly to the treating physician.

Some years before, in 2014, a team of graduate students from the University of Toronto developed a skin-like 3D bio-printed wound dressing to treat burns.

In 2018, Sameer Sonkusale, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Tufts University, came up with a smart bandage idea supported by National Science Foundation. The new wound dressing is not only able to monitor the patient and his health status but also to tailor the dose of medication autonomously.

“In the past, people have made dressings that can deliver drugs or have made bandages that can sense how they are healing,” Sameer Sonkusale says. “But never have we achieved a closed loop operation where sensors were used to monitor and then control drug delivery in a closed loop.”

Although most of these innovations are still in a WIP status, they offer many chances to improve the healthcare systems and therefore the life of patients. And the possibilities, especially with 3D printing are definitely not bailed out yet.

What do you think about smart bandage technologies and do you know other examples for this innovative field?