Bacterial infection is a fairly common and potentially dangerous complication of wound healing, but a new “intelligent” dressing that turns fluorescent green to signal the onset of an infection could provide physicians a valuable early-detection system.
Researchers in the United Kingdom recently unveiled a prototype of the colour-changing bandage, which contains a gel-like material infused with tiny capsules that release non-toxic fluorescent dye in response to contact with populations of bacteria that commonly cause wound infections.
Led by Toby Jenkins, a professor of biophysical chemistry at the University of Bath, the inventors of the new bandage, which has not yet been tested in humans, say it could be used to alert health-care professionals about an infection early enough to prevent the patient from getting sick. In some cases it might even help avoid the need for antibiotics, says Jenkins.
Jenkins’s group is collaborating with clinical researchers from a pediatric burn center at the University of Bristol, and the team envisions that one of the first applications could be burn treatment. Clinicians tend to overprescribe antibiotics for burn wounds, particularly in children, because they are concerned about infection. That can lead to antibiotic-resistant strains. An infection-detecting bandage could prevent this by reassuring parents and doctors when a wound is not infected. They would also be useful for monitoring surgical wounds as well as those that result from traumatic injury, says Jenkins. All wounds get colonised by bacteria, but small populations are generally not harmful. In some cases, a population of harmful bacteria grows too big for the immune system to handle, and clinical intervention is needed. “We believe that this transition normally takes several hours, if not longer,” says Jenkins. Early detection might give doctors time to head off the infection.