Smart Hand Bandage
Researchers develop smart bandage to accelerate the healing process -- Representational Image REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

A group of researchers has created a wirelessly-activated smart bandage — one that accelerates healing and could eventually be used to heal battlefield wounds or chronic injuries faster than bandages currently being used.

The new bandage looks slightly different from a standard one and houses a series of electrically conductive threads coated with a special hydrogel, which can individually hold medications for injuries.

Each of these threads can then be (slightly) charged with a stamp-sized, smartphone-activated microcontroller to heat-up the gel, releasing the medication embedded into it. The smartphone-triggered device can effectively administer any kind of medication, ranging from infection-fighting antibiotics and tissue-regenerating medications to basic painkillers or others.

It is also worth noting that a single bandage could be loaded with different medicines tailored for a specific kind of injury. This way, a patient could use his/her smartphone to control the dosage as well as the delivery of the medication in order to bolster the healing process.

Though the smart bandage has only been tested on animals, the researchers — noting the success from those tests — envision it could offer an easy way to accelerate the healing of chronic skin wounds as well as battlefield injuries with further refinements and testing.

The unique bandage has been designed jointly by researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Harvard Medical School, and MIT. Their design and findings from animal tests are detailed in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

"This is the first bandage that is capable of dose-dependent drug release," said Ali Tamayol, an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "You can release multiple drugs with different release profiles. That's a big advantage in comparison with other systems. What we did here was come up with a strategy for building a bandage from the bottom up".

In a specific example of battlefield application, Tamayol said the smart bandage could be used to ensure faster healing of bullet or shrapnel wounds or to prevent the spread of infection in remote conditions.

For now, the researchers have patented the design of their bandage and are moving towards further improvements such as integration of sensors for monitoring glucose, pH, and other health indicators. They still have to go through human trials, suggesting it could be years before the bandage hits the market as a healing accelerator for humans.