UT Austin and Skoltech Have Developed A ‘Smart’ Wearable Sensor for Tracking Healing

3 months ago by Luke James

Having formed a joint U.S.-Russia research team, scientists at UT Austin (the University of Texas at Austin) and Skoltech (the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology) have developed a proof-of-concept ‘smart’ wearable sensor that has the potential to enable the real-time, non-invasive monitoring of patients’ wounds.

Update: This article has been updated for accuracy. The original article cited MIT as the research institution involved in this study. It has been updated to reflect that UT Austin (the University of Texas at Austin) is the correct institution.

 

There are plenty of examples of chronic wounds that cause problems for patients and healthcare professionals alike, such as pressure ulcers that are painful and can be difficult to manage.

On top of this, monitoring the healing process is a problem, too. Doctors and nurses are forced to remove bandages from a wound to take a proper look at it, and this can cause damage to the recovering tissue and slow the overall recovery process. It can also be painful for the patient, and it necessitates what are extra—and otherwise avoidable—trips to the hospital or clinic.

This could soon be a thing of the past, however, as a new study from the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin), whose scientists have been working alongside researchers from Skoltech, has presented a proof-of-concept smart wearable sensor that’s said to be capable of monitoring and tracking healing in chronic skin wounds without the need to remove bandages.

 

A diagram that reflects the University of Texas at Austin and Skoltech’s electrochemical detection process in wound healing

Image credit: Skoltech

 

An Electroanalytical Wound Sensor

It’s because of the above points regarding pain that ‘smart’ bandages, which are essentially wearable sensors, have caught the attention of medical researchers and engineers. In the new UT Austin study, the joint Russia-U.S. team, led by Professor Keith Stevenson of Skoltech, explored electroanalytical methods that, thanks to their simplicity, sensitivity, and durability, are very promising for clinical applications.

“Earlier stages of our research involved characterising the sensor performance and demonstrating the sensitive and selective multianalyte detection in complex biofluid simulants that closely mimic real biological environments,” explains Stevenson. (Note that ‘multianalyte’ refers to multiple substances, or ‘analytes’, whose chemical constituents are in the process of being identified and measured.)

According to the study’s official research paper (published in ACS Publications), the researchers have achieved an early prototype of what’s known as an ‘electroanalytical wound sensor’. It’s based on carbon ultra-microelectrode arrays placed on flexible substrates. In previous studies in a similar vein, researchers have used quartz substrates; however, in this instance, to ensure flexibility, the authors devised a method of placing the arrays on a polyethylene terephthalate substrate.

 

Simulated Wound Environment

The researchers say that they used a simulated wound environment to test the sensor’s sensitivity to three important biomarkers: (i) pyocyanin, produced by a bacterium typically found in chronic wounds; (ii) nitric oxide, which is secreted in response to bacterial infections by the immune system; and (iii) uric acid, a metabolite which correlates with the severity of a wound.

Results from these tests showed that the sensor’s detection limits and linear dynamic ranges—i.e., the ranges of concentrations where a sensor produces quantitative results—were within biologically relevant concentrations. This means that a device based on these (or similar) sensors could be used to monitor wounds and track healing in a variety of healthcare settings.

The researchers say that the next step in this research will be to use the sensor technology for in vivo studies and real-time wound monitoring on human subjects in clinical settings.

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