Talking Stitches? Almost!

The problem:  delayed or incomplete wound healing in seniors and the elderly.
The solution:  stiches that snitch!

There comes a time when we have to face the fact that one of the effects of aging on the human body is that we do not heal as fast as when we were younger.  Scientists are continuously finding ways to address problems like this and one such success involves the stitches used to close wounds or surgery sites.

Researchers led by Tufts University engineers have found a way to incorporate microscopic-sized sensors into threads that can be used to suture through multiple layers of tissue.  These sensors wirelessly transmit diagnostic data in real time.

The threads are first dipped in physical and chemical-sensing mixtures which are then connected to minute wireless electronic circuitry.  The sensors in the threads collect data such as tissue health (e.g. pressure, temperature, stress, strain on the stitches), pH and body glucose levels.  This information is then transmitted to a cell phone or computer to determine how a wound or surgery site is healing, if there is an infection brewing or even if the body’s chemistry is out of balance.  Because the stitches are embedded into the tissues themselves, it becomes possible to catch and monitor data that is not consistentwith healthy healing.

micronano201639-f1

(Image credit: Tufts / Microsystems & Nanoengineering)

Up until recently, the only method for using such implantable circuitry was what is termed two-dimensional, limiting usage to flat tissues such as skin.  With the creation of these specialized strands, three dimensions can be achieved, allowing for future uses such as organ transplants and orthopedic implants, as complex closure shapes can be created.

“The ability to suture a thread-based diagnostic device intimately in a tissue or organ environment in three dimensions adds a unique feature that is not available with other flexible diagnostic platforms,” said Sameer Sonkusale, Ph.D., corresponding author on the paper and director of the interdisciplinary Nano Lab in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Tufts School of Engineering. “We think thread-based devices could potentially be used as smart sutures for surgical implants, smart bandages to monitor wound healing, or integrated with textile or fabric as personalized health monitors and point-of-care diagnostics.”

The future for this is exciting.  Engineers behind this technology believe that they have only just begun to uncover the possible medical benefits.  For example, if the threads were coated with drug-infused chemicals they could be utilized in medical tattoos. Or an electrical pulse could be used to release targeted disease-fighting chemicals.

While the research has been limited to animals and laboratory testing only, results are very promising and continued investigation into accuracy, reliability and long-term acceptance by the body is needed.  But the probability of elevating patient-specific treatment to a higher level is on the horizon.

This presents an unprecedented myriad of achievements for improving the quality of life for seniors and the elderly as one of the hurdles we seem to have to jump when recovering from an injury, surgery or disease is improving the success of the healing process itself.

References:

Jones, Orion.  “Biomedical Smart Stitches Detect Infections & Speed Healing.”  BigThink.com. The Big Think Inc.  Web. 3 August 2016.
http://bigthink.com/ideafeed/biomedical-smart-stitches-detect-infections-speed-healing

Collins, Patrick. “Researchers Invent “Smart” Thread That Collects Diagnostic Data When Sutured Into Tissue.  Tufts Now. 18 July 2016. Web. 29 July 2016.
https://now.tufts.edu/news-releases/researchers-invent-smart-thread-collects-diagnostic-data-when-sutured-tissue

“ ‘Smart Sutures’ Could Send Real-Time Data to Doctors About Patient Health.” Online video clip. NewsBeat Social, 26 July 2016.  Web.  10 August 2016.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rTiWf5XCDs

Vincent, James. “Smart Stitches Send Doctors Information On Wounds As They Heal.”  TheVerge.com. Vox Media.  21 July 2016. Web. 10 August 2016.

 

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