‘Smart Bandage’ diagnoses danger

Researchers at the University of Rochester have taken a major step toward a bandage that will change colour depending on what kind of bacteria is present in a wound.

Benjamin Miller, assistant professor of chemistry at the University, and Philippe Fauchet, professor and chair of electrical and computer engineering, have devised a minuscule sized wafer that can differentiate between two classes of bacteria, called Gram-positive and Gram-negative.

The sensor is said to be the first substantial improvement in identifying Gram-positive and negative bacteria since Hans Christian Joachim Gram developed the original staining technique in 1884.

Currently, if a doctor needs to identify whether a bacterial infection is of the Gram positive or negative variety, the bacteria need to be stained and examined under a microscope.

The drawbacks to this method are that it is prone to human error, since a person has to make the judgement of whether or not the bacteria have changed colour under the microscope.

In earlier research, Miller showed how he was able to create a complementary molecule that binds to lipid A, while his newest research shows that it’s possible to link that molecule to a silicon sensor that will change when the detector molecule binds to the lipid.

The team is said to have lined up a dozen more types of pathogenic bacteria and already mapped out all the targets for which they will need to devise a binding molecule. Among those in the team’s sights are antibiotic-resistant strains.

‘We’re working on a way to detect whether or not a certain strain of bacteria is antibiotic resistant, and which antibiotic that may be,’ said Miller. ‘That will be extremely challenging, but we think we can do it.’

Miller plans to create an array of dozens of different bacterial sensors that can be mounted into a flexible bandage and will change colour dramatically enough to tell the user whether a serious infection is present in the wound.

Miller’s work is part of the Centre for Future Health, a University of Rochester team of researchers working to create a ‘smart medical home’ that will help people monitor their personal health with the help of advanced electronics like Miller’s bandage, computers and the Internet.

Ultimately, once the user has scanned the bandage, the reader will connect to a home PC responsible for monitoring residents’ health, reporting what kind of bacteria is present.

The technology Miller is pursuing may go well beyond the home as well. The food packaging industry is said to have shown interest, since a wrapping, for example around a pound of ground beef, may be able to change to a cautioning yellow if the meat is contaminated.