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'Smart' wound dressing will know when you are healing, prevent amputations

Joseph Flaig

Stock image. The University of Nottingham said the smart dressing will use fabric 'that will look and feel the same as a conventional wound dressing' (Credit: Shutterstock)
Stock image. The University of Nottingham said the smart dressing will use fabric 'that will look and feel the same as a conventional wound dressing' (Credit: Shutterstock)

A ‘smart’ wound dressing will automatically monitor healing and infection, potentially reducing the 7,000 annual lower limb amputations for people with diabetes in England.

The disposable dressing would use fibre optic sensors and a standalone opto-electronic unit with smartphone connectivity to monitor multiple biomarkers, including temperature, humidity and pH. It will be developed at the Centre for Healthcare Technologies at the University of Nottingham, thanks to a new £0.9m grant from the Medical Research Council.

Wound management accounts for more than 4% of the NHS budget, about £5bn every year. Of that, diabetic foot ulcers account for £1bn. The hard-to-heal wounds will be the initial focus of the project, as better monitoring of the ulcers could prevent amputations due to infection.

The dressing “could have a significant impact on patient care and healthcare costs for wound management,” a Nottingham announcement said.

A researcher tests a prototype of the dressing (Credit: The University of Nottingham)

A researcher tests a prototype of the dressing (Credit: The University of Nottingham)

“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.

“At present, regular wound redressing is the only way to visually assess healing rates. However, this exposure can encourage infection, disrupt progress and creates a huge economic burden on NHS resources. Instead, our technology will indicate the optimum time to change the dressing and send out an alert if intervention is required with infected or slow-healing wounds to improve patient care and cut the number of healthcare appointments needed.”

The proposed sensors will be fabricated in lightweight, flexible, low-cost optical fibres with diameters of roughly 100 microns. The fibres will be incorporated into fabric that will reportedly look and feel the same as a conventional wound dressing. 

The dressing will be connected to a standalone, reusable opto-electronic unit to constantly evaluate the wound’s status. The unit will transmit and receive light to and from the sensors, relaying information to patients and doctors thanks to wireless transfer to a mobile phone. 

Although the university said the technology will cost “marginally more” than the average dressing, the higher initial cost will reportedly be offset by fewer dressing changes or clinical visits, and potentially reduced healing time.  A 10% reduction in costs associated with visits and appointments would provide £300m in annual savings to the NHS alone. 

The centre will develop the smart dressing for 24 months, followed by 10 months of clinical evaluation and patient feedback from people with chronic wounds.


Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
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