Bioshock bandage speeds healing with electrical pulses

Engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed a type of bioshock bandage that helps wounds to heal by delivering small electrical pulses generated by body movement.

bioshock bandage
Materials science and engineering professor Xudon Wang fits a new wound dressing around the wrist of graduate student Yin Long. (Credit: UW-Madison photo by Sam Million-Weaver)

Described in journal ACS Nano, the bandage consists of small electrodes for the injury site linked to a band holding energy-harvesting units called nanogenerators. These are looped around the wearer's torso, with the natural expansion and contraction of the ribcage during breathing powering the low-intensity pulses.

"The nature of these electrical pulses is similar to the way the body generates an internal electric field," said Xudong Wang, a professor of materials science and engineering at UW-Madison. "We think our nanogenerator could be the most effective electrical stimulation approach for many therapeutic purposes. Our device is as convenient as a bandage you put on your skin.”

It has long been known that electricity can be beneficial for skin healing, but most electrotherapy units in use today require bulky electrical equipment and complicated wiring to deliver powerful jolts of electricity. However, the researchers found that low-power pulses were more beneficial to healing than higher power electricity. In testing on rats, the bioshock bandage reduced healing time from 12 days to just three days.

"We were surprised to see such a fast recovery rate," said Wang. "We suspected that the devices would produce some effect, but the magnitude was much more than we expected."

It is hoped the dressing could have a big impact on chronic wounds such as those associated with diabetic foot ulcers and non-healing surgical wounds. According to the UW-Madison team, the nanogenerators are made from relatively common materials such as copper and polyethylene terephthalate (PET), so the price of the bandage should not be a barrier to adoption.

"I don't think the cost will be much more than a regular bandage," says Wang. "The device in itself is very simple and convenient to fabricate."