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‘Smart bandage’ can detect early formation of pressure ulcers

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Electrical engineers in the US have created a “smart bandage” that uses electrical currents to detect early tissue damage from pressure ulcers before they can be seen by human eyes.

The technology is now possible due to advances in flexible electronics, according to the researchers from the University of California.

They exploited the electrical changes that occur when a healthy cell starts dying. When functioning properly, a cell’s membrane acts like an insulator to the cell’s conductive contents. But, as a cell starts to die, the integrity of the cell wall starts to break down, allowing electrical signals to leak through.

“We can imagine this being carried by a nurse for spot-checking target areas on a patient”

Michel Maharbiz

The researchers printed dozens of electrodes onto a thin, flexible film, and discharged a very small current between the electrodes to create a spatial map of the underlying tissue, based upon the flow of electricity at different frequencies.

They tested the thin, non-invasive bandage on the skin of rats and found the device was able to detect varying degrees of tissue damage consistently.

The researchers hope their findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, could provide a major boost to the prevention of pressure ulcers.

Associate Professor Michel Maharbiz, head of the project at the University of California, Berkeley, said his team set out to create a type of bandage that could detect pressure ulcers “as they are forming” and “before the damage reaches the surface of the skin”.

“We can imagine this being carried by a nurse for spot-checking target areas on a patient, or it could be incorporated into a wound dressing to regularly monitor how it’s healing,” he said.

Study co-author Dr Michael Harrison, professor of surgery at University of California, San Francisco, added: “This bandage could provide an easy early-warning system that would allow intervention before the injury is permanent.  

“The genius of this device is that it’s looking at the electrical properties of the tissue to assess damage. We currently have no other way to do that in clinical practice,” he said.

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