MIT Researchers Develop a Bandage With a Brain

MIT researchers have been able to create a bandage with a brain that has the capacity to recognize infection and automatically release medication via a novel flexible material that can simultaneously carry tiny devices and patch a wound. Electronic components embedded into a sheet of hydrogel have created a 'smart wound dressing' with temperate sensors and drug reservoirs that combine to deliver precision health-care.


Stretchy HydrogelStretchy Hydrogel

What is hydrogel?

A hydrogel is a highly absorbent network of polymer chains that contain over 90% water, permitting a degree of flexibility very similar to natural human tissue. A polymer is a Greek word meaning 'many parts' that is comprised of countless molecules all strung together to form long chains that have a broad range of properties essential to daily life, ranging from synthetic plastics to natural bio-polymers, such as DNA and proteins.

The MIT smart bandage

Developed by a team of researchers headed by Xuanhe Zhao, Associate Professor in MIT's department of Mechanical Engineering and including graduate students: Shaoting Lin, Hyunwoo Yuk; German Alberto Parada, post doc, Teng Zhang; Hyunwoo Koo from Samsung Display and Cunjiang Yu from the University  of Houston, this innovative soft, sticky and stretchy adhesive, gel-like material is specifically designed to bond to surfaces such as gold, titanium, aluminum, silicon, glass and ceramic. It has the capacity to incorporate temperature sensors, LED lights, conductive wires, semi-conductor chops and other tiny electronics.


Smart BandageSmart Bandage

Flexibility and sensors are the unique features in the design of this smart bandage. When the dressing is applied to the elbow or the knee, it stretches with the movement of the body, maintaining the functional integrity of the embedded electronics. According to co-author of the study from Samsung Display, Hyunwoo Yuk, an abnormal increase in temperature, for example, will cause the device to release drugs to that specific location.


Stretchy HydrogelStretchy Hydrogel

In the words of Professor Xunahe Zhao: "This is a smart bandage capable of sensing and delivering drugs accordingly. We are trying to design long-term, high-efficiency interfaces between the body and electronics." The Office of Naval Research, the MIT Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies and the National Science Foundation funded this important research. which was published in the journal, Advanced Materials

The medical future of hydrogel

With more research, Zhao envisions hydrogel as the perfect vehicle for delivering electronics inside the body. He and his team are currently exploring its potential as a carrier for glucose sensors and neural probes. They can improve glucose sensors, which need to be replaced often. Zhao and his team's hydrogel-sensor system promise to be effective over longer periods of time and this could also be the case for neural probes.

He concludes:

"The brain is a bowl of Jell-O. Researchers are trying different soft materials to achieve long-term bio-compatibility of neural devices. With collaborators, we are proposing to use hydrogel  as an ideal material for neural devices, because it can be designed to possess similar mechanical and physiological properties as the brain."

Go Zhao and go team!

Do you think smart devices can ever replace human reasoning and judgment?

Closing thoughts on medicine:

The aim of medicine is to prevent disease and prolong life. ~ William James Mayo