Wounds can be unpleasant for those that have them and costly to treat, with the NHS spending £4.5-5.1bn each year to manage them.
Now, with EPSRC-funding, Dr Michael Crichton, a biomedical engineer at Heriot-Watt University and Dr Jenna Cash, a specialist in wound healing immunology from the University of Edinburgh, are working on a two-year project to better understand wounds and reverse the cost of treating them.
They will do this by developing a microsensor that will detect wound healing by monitoring the microscale mechanical changes that happen to the body’s tissue.
“We want to understand what actually happens in a wound,” said Dr Crichton. “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.
“We’re working to create a small sensor that can be embedded in a bandage to measure changes in a wound’s properties without interfering with the process.
“The sensor will make small mechanical measurements - much like how a doctor would prod a lump - and will tell us how the tissue is changing, or whether the wound needs a different dressing or treatment.
“At the moment, we judge the progress of wounds on patients’ reports of pain, and how the wound looks to the naked eye of health professionals.
“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.”
Dr Chrichton told The Engineer that the sensors will be made in-house at Heriot-Watt’s recently refurbished cleanroom and that a long-term aim is to include electronics into the bandage for non-contact measurement from a handheld or smart-phone-like device.
He said that at this stage of the research, power for the system is derived from a computer/digital acquisition unit, adding ‘this is a parallel aspect of the project that we will be thinking about at the same time as the signal transmission’.
While the team is investigating how skin wounds heal, their findings could be applied to other tissues and organs, like monitoring liver/kidney damage or cancers.