Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently added another invention to the emerging world of smart, wearable technologies. Their innovation, dubbed the “Band-Aid of the future
,” comes in the form of a flexible, sticky, transparent hydrogel material that can incorporate temperature sensors, LED lights, and other technologies to completely revolutionize the future of wound dressing.
At the core of the next-generation Band-Aids is the material known as hydrogel. Synthesized from natural polymers like collagen or alginate, hydrogels have hydrophilic polymer chains that can absorb 70-95 percent of water. It is this high water content that renders the hydrogel so flexible and stretchy, which is why they’re used to make contact lenses and even condoms.
The stretchy property of hydrogels makes it ideal for sticking to skin as part of wound dressing. Whereas traditional gauze and Band-Aids don’t adhere well to body joints like knees and elbows, hydrogels easily wrap and stretch with the movements of these joints. Hydrogels maintain their structural integrity without compromising mobility for the patients. In addition, because of the high water content, hydrogel dressings provide moisture and cooling relief to the wounds, which accelerates its healing.
Led by Xuanhe Zhao, the MIT research team improved on the hydrogel composition to create one that’s mechanically tougher and can bond with other materials like gold, titanium, aluminum, silicon, glass, and ceramic – the common components of electronics. This means that sensors can be easily embedded within the hydrogel without getting shifted or lost.
To make this new hydrogel dressing ‘smart,’ MIT researchers added electronic sensors that can provide biometrics about the wound status and patient health. This included temperature and vitals sensors, LED lights, and microfluidic reservoirs for controlled drug release. The ultimate goal is to use changes in skin temperature as a guide for the release of medicines to the wound. And LED lights would alert doctors of when the medicine is running low or of other problems.
"If you want to put electronics in close contact with the human body for applications such as health care monitoring and drug delivery, it is highly desirable to make the electronic devices soft and stretchable to fit the environment of the human body. That's the motivation for stretchable hydrogel electronics. You need to think of long-term stability of the hydrogels and interfaces," said Zhao.
Indeed, the team demonstrated that hydrogel dressings remained in place, with all electronic sensors functioning as expected, even when the material was stretched across difficult areas like elbows and knees.
One immediate application for hydrogel dressings would be for the treatment of burns and other skin conditions. But Zhao and his team also intend to customize uses for smart hydrogels for inside the body, as part of implanted sensor devices and even as probes in the brain.
Additional source: MNT