Researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Harvard Medical School and MIT have designed a smart bandage that could eventually heal chronic wounds or battlefield injuries with every fibre of its being.

The bandage consists of electrically conductive fibres coated in a gel that can be individually loaded with infection-fighting antibiotics, tissue-regenerating growth factors, painkillers or other medications.

A microcontroller no larger than a postage stamp, which could be triggered by a smartphone or other wireless device, sends small amounts of voltage through a chosen fibre.

That voltage heats the fibre and its hydrogel, releasing whatever cargo it contains.

A single bandage could accommodate multiple medications tailored to a specific type of wound, the researchers said, while offering the ability to precisely control the dose and delivery schedule of those medications. That combination of customisation and control could substantially improve or accelerate the healing process, said Ali Tamayol, Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at Nebraska.

‘This is the first bandage that is capable of dose-dependent drug release,’ Tamayol explained.

‘You can release multiple drugs with different release profiles. That’s a big advantage in comparison with other systems. What we did here was come up with a strategy for building a bandage from the bottom up.

‘This is a platform that can be applied to many different areas of biomedical engineering and medicine.’

The team envisions its smart bandage being used initially to treat chronic skin wounds that stem from diabetes. Those wounded in combat might also benefit from the bandage’s versatility and customisability, Tamayol said, whether to stimulate faster healing of bullet and shrapnel wounds or prevent the on-set of infection in remote environments.