Berkeley, UCSF researchers develop smart bandage to prevent and monitor bedsores

Engineers at the University of California at Berkeley and UC San Francisco have created a smart bandage to detect and assess tissue damage from pressure ulcers before it can be seen by human eyes. This early detection could make recovery easier and more possible; the technology could also be used to monitor an existing bedsore.

The technology uses electrical currents to monitor the changes that occur when a healthy cell starts to die. The bandage has been tested on the skin of rats and found to accurately detect varying degrees of tissue damage in a consistent manner across multiple animals.

Michel Maharbiz

"We set out to create a type of bandage that could detect bedsores as they are forming, before the damage reaches the surface of the skin," Michel Maharbiz, a UC Berkeley associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences and head of the smart-bandage project, said in a statement. "We can imagine this being carried by a nurse for spot-checking target areas on a patient, or it could be incorporated into a wound dressing to regularly monitor how it's healing." The study results were published on March 17 in the journal Nature Communications.

Pressure ulcers, or bedsores, occur after prolonged pressure cuts off adequate blood supply to the skin. Heels, hips and tailbones--areas that cover bony parts of the body--are common bedsore sites.

"By the time you see signs of a bedsore on the surface of the skin, it's usually too late," Dr. Michael Harrison, a professor of surgery at UCSF and a co-investigator of the study, said in a statement. "This bandage could provide an easy early-warning system that would allow intervention before the injury is permanent. If you can detect bedsores early on, the solution is easy. Just take the pressure off."

Bedsores are associated with septic infections, and the chances of a hospital patient dying are 2.8 times higher if they have pressure ulcers. Diabetes, obesity and an aging population are increasing population risk factors for bedsores.

In animal testing, the researchers induced skin wounds on the rats with pressure from magnets. The smart bandage was used once a day for at least three days to track the change in the wounds. A clinical study of the bandage has already started; it's headed by UCSF professor of surgery and study co-author Dr. David Young.

"As technology gets more and more miniaturized, and as we learn more and more about the responses the body has to disease and injury, we're able to build bandages that are very intelligent," Maharbiz said. "You can imagine a future where the bandage you or a physician puts on could actually report a lot of interesting information that could be used to improve patient care."

- here is the release and the study