Health and Medicine

Intelligent Dressing Glows When Wounds Are Infected

October 24, 2015 | by Alfredo Carpineti

Photo credit: Intelligent hydrogel wound dressing by University of Bath, via American Chemical Society

When we experience a wound, it's not just the torn tissue we have to worry about. Patients can go on to develop infections, potentially leaving them vulnerable to organ damage if it spreads and putting their chances of recovery in jeopardy. With the aim of reducing this risk, scientists have developed a prototype wound dressing that's able to detect the presence of bacteria in the crucial early hours of infection.

Bacteria that colonize wounds tend to create and live in a biofilm, a slimy substance made of external DNA, proteins and complex sugars. If present, the dressing reacts with the biofilms by turning a bright fluorescent color.

“The dressing detects changes in wound bacterial activity. All wounds have some bacteria in [them] – whilst they are kept in check by immune clearance this is not a problem, but when bacteria start to form biofilms and critically colonise the wound, pathogenic changes can result. Our dressing will measure this critical colonisation point,” Dr. Toby Jenkins, co-author of the research, told IFLScience.

The dressing was tested with the common infection-causing bacteria E. coli and S. aureus, among others, and also on colonies of different ages and thus biofilm development.

The detection rate for biofilms from pathogenic, or harmful, strains was surprisingly fast. In lab tests, the wound dressing could reveal the presence of bacteria within four hours from the initial inoculation, but for an established biofilm, the response was within minutes.

The technology could become paramount in post-surgery recovery. “If used appropriately, we believe it can be used for early diagnosis of post-surgical infection and hence (indirectly) in reducing incidences of sepsis,” added Dr. Jenkins.

Unfortunately, the intelligent wound dressing has a long way to go: “We are working on safety testing, working out a manufacturing pathway, and plan [on conducting] a clinical study in about 3 years.” 

The dressing was developed at the University of Bath in collaboration with other English institutes. The research was published in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

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