Sensor monitors wounds as they heal

Wound sensor
Engineers at Heriot-Watt University are developing a sensor that will help patients, doctors and nurses manage how wounds heal. (Heriot-Watt University)

Treating wounds often involves consuming huge clinical resources and significant pain for patients. Dr. Michael Crichton, assistant professor in biomedical engineering at Heriot-Watt University in the United Kingdom, has been awarded a grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to develop a microsensor that will detect wound healing, by monitoring the tiny, microscale mechanical changes that happen to the body’s tissue. 

Crichton is working with Dr Jenna Cash, a specialist in wound healing immunology from the University of Edinburgh, on the two-year project. 

 “We want to understand what actually happens in a wound,” Crichton said. “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.”

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Crichton added, “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.”

Up to now, determining if a wound is healing is accomplished by medical personnel looking at the wound. The sensor is intended to be a more accurate, scientific approach. “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,” Crichton said.

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. Dr. Crichton said: “Some tissues and organs have the same structural components as skin, so researchers and practitioners in those areas are likely to take a great interest in our project.”

The project could spark interest from the pharmaceutical industry, where the creams, gels and dressings currently available to patients and healthcare providers represent a market of billions of dollars. 

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