Have Researchers Found ‘The Band-Aid of the Future’?

Wednesday 9th December 2015

MIT researchers have designed what they like to call ‘the Band-Aid of the future” in the form of a stretchy hydrogel dressing that includes drug delivery channels, temperature sensors and LED lights.

This innovative dressing releases medicine in response to changes in body temperature and lights up if medicine supplies are low. The team have embedded several electronics into the dressing, including temperature sensors, LED lights and semiconductor chips.

The dressing’s stretchy form means it can be applied to flexible areas of the body such as knees or elbows and it is designed to move with the body, simultaneously keeping electronic components intact.

Lead author of the study, Xuanhe Zhao, pointed out that electronics have drastically different properties to the human body, as the former is dry and hard and the latter is wet and soft. He went on to say that in order to put electronics in close proximity to the human body for drug delivery and healthcare monitoring, the electronic devices should ideally be stretchable and soft to fit the human body’s environment. This was the motivation behind stretchable hydrogel electronics.

Zhao compared the human brain to a bowl of jelly. He said that at the moment, researchers are experimenting with various soft materials to achieve biocompatibility of neural devices that will work long-term. By working alongside collaborators, the team hope to use robust hydrogel as the ultimate material for neural devices. This is because they can design the hydrogel to possess similar physiological and mechanical properties as the human brain.

Traditionally, the purpose of hydrogel was to bond to metals such as titanium, aluminium and gold and it is usually brittle and not made to stretch.

Throughout their research, the team placed a titanium wire inside the hydrogel to form a transparent conductor that was able to produce constant conductivity when stretched multiple times.

The team also embedded a number of electronic components inside the gel to produce what they call a “smart dressing”. These include the drug channels and temperature settings. Even when the dressing is stretched exceptionally tight, it could still monitor temperature and administer drugs on a consistent basis.

It is hoped that this dressing could be used for burns treatment in the short-term. In the long-term, the team like to think that hydrogel could be used to deliver tiny electronics inside the human body, for example neural probes or glucose sensors.