Smart bandage embeds optical fibre sensors for improved wound care

A disposable wound dressing embedded with optical fibre sensors could help reduce the billions spent on healthcare costs for wound management.

optical fibre sensors
Smart bandage (Pic: Nottingham University)

Nottingham University researchers have received £902,524 funding from the Medical Research Council to develop the smart wound dressing that uses the sensors to assess whether affected tissue is healing well or is infected.

The dressing could have a significant impact on patient care and healthcare costs for wound management, which stand at £4.5-£5.1bn a year, which is over four per cent of the NHS budget.

Diabetic foot ulcers represent nearly £1bn of this cost and these wounds will be the initial focus of the project. Better wound monitoring has the potential to reduce the 7,000 lower limb amputations that affect people with diabetes in England each year.

The optical fibre sensors in the dressing remotely monitor multiple biomarkers associated with wound management such as temperature, humidity and pH, providing a more complete picture of the healing process.

“At present, regular wound redressing is the only way to visually assess healing rates, however this exposure can encourage infection, disrupt progress and creates a huge economic burden on NHS resources. Instead our technology will indicate the optimum time to change the dressing and send out an alert if intervention is required with infected or slow-healing wounds to improve patient care and cut the number of healthcare appointments needed,” said Professor Steve Morgan, director of the Centre for Healthcare Technologies and Royal Society Industry Fellow at the University.

Developed and validated by the Centre in laboratory tests, the proposed sensors will be fabricated in very thin (~100um diameter), lightweight, flexible, low-cost optical fibres. This versatile platform will then be incorporated into fabric that will look and feel the same as a conventional wound dressing.

The dressing will be connected to a standalone, reusable opto-electronic unit to constantly evaluate the wound’s status. The unit will transmit and receive light to and from the sensors; relaying information to the patient and clinicians. This will be achieved by wireless transfer linked to a mobile phone.

Although the dressing will cost marginally more than the average dressing, the higher initial cost will be offset by fewer dressing changes or clinical visits and reduced healing time.  A 10 per cent reduction in costs associated with visits and appointments would provide £300m annual savings to the NHS alone.

The project team includes researchers from University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust, Nottingham University Hospitals Trust, and industrial partners Footfalls and Heartbeats (UK).