A sensor that detects how well patient wounds are healing so that doctors and nurses can better manage them is being developed by engineers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.
Wounds cost the NHS £4.5-5.1bn each year to manage and burns, diabetic ulcers, caesarean section scars, surgical incisions and simple cuts can cause significant pain to patients.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) awarded £360,000 to the university team who plan to develop a small sensor that can be embedded in a bandage to measure changes in a wound’s properties without interfering with the healing process.
It will make small mechanical measurements, much like how a doctor would prod a lump, in order to tell doctors how the tissue is changing, or whether the wound needs a different dressing or treatment.
Currently the progress of wounds is judged on patients’ reports of pain, and how the wound looks to the naked eye of health professionals.
Dr Michael Crichton who is leading the project said the aim is to “understand what actually happens in a wound”.
“Lots of research has looked at the biological properties of wounds, but we know very little about the mechanics of how wounds heal, especially at the microscale, which is where changes are happening at sub-hair width scales.
“Our smart sensor will alert the patient and their care team when intervention is needed to make sure the wound heals better, or when it is all progressing nicely under the bandage.”
It is hoped the project will spark interest from the pharmaceutical industry, with the creams, gels and dressing available as other viable treatment options.
Dr Crichton is working with Dr Jenna Cash, a specialist in wound healing immunology from the University of Edinburgh, on the two-year project.
She said: “This is an innovative, patient-focused research project that addresses the urgent need for us to better understand wounds.
“Our work on the immunological response during healing is reflected in mechanical changes and anything that combines these has the potential for new therapies in this area.”
In 2017 a team unveiled stretchy “glue” that can be used to fill wounds, including internal wounds, and sets within a minute. By building in degrading enzymes, its lifetime can be controlled such that it disintegrates once the wound has healed.