Future in first aid: smart bandages

Now your adhesive bandage may be more sophisticated than you. Researchers are creating "smart bandages" that change color depending on what type of bacteria may be present in the wound - alerting the wearer to when it's time to seek a doctor's help.

Announced on November 1, researchers at the University of Rochester in the US are developing a sand-grain-sized silicon wafer that can differentiate between two classes of bacteria, Gram-positive and Gram-negative, and "stains" them different colors. The wafer is then slipped inside a bandage to keep tabs on a healing (or infected) wound.

The team hopes to expand the sensor's capabilities to include other types of bacteria, including salmonella, listeria, and enteropathogenic E. coli. Currently, the change in bandage color is too subtle for an at-home user to detect, but researchers aim to fix the problem soon. The University of Rochester is also developing an at-home tele-reader that scans your bandage and sends the information via the Internet to your doctor, who can detect what kind of bacteria might be present.

The sensor technology, once perfected, could extend to the food packaging industry as well - for example, the plastic wrap around a pound of ground beef could change color cautioning when the meat is contaminated.

German researchers also just announced a new bandage that turns purple at the first sign of infection. The wound dressing, developed at the Fraunhofer Research Institution in Munich, includes a special dye that reacts to different pH values. Typically, healthy skin and healed wounds have a slightly acidic pH, around 5 or 6. If this value increases, the bandage responds by turning purple, indicating problems lurking underneath. A news release states that developers are "looking for an industrial partner to produce the dressing commercially."

"This is an important step in changing the way preventive medicine is perceived and practiced," said Alice Pentland, chair of the department of dermatology at the University of Rochester, of the bandage being developed there. "This kind of research can put a very simple and accurate tool into the hands of anyone, giving them more control over their own health than ever before."





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