This week Engineers at Heriot-Watt University (HWU) announce a new study with the goal of developing a sensor that will help patients, physicians and nurses manage how wounds heal. The funding announcement comes as the Edinburgh, Scotland-based university celebrates its Year of Health, a calendar of engagement that spans schools, communities, businesses and government. Throughout the year, this campaign will highlight the university’s research and the groundbreaking discoveries that are driving innovations in healthcare, diagnosis and treatment
HWU’s study has major implications with the National Health Service costs for managing the treatment of burns, diabetic ulcers, caesarean section scars, surgical incisions and even simple cuts that can cause pain to patients skyrocketing to £4.5-5.1 billion each year, consuming huge clinical resources.
Sensor Provides Image as to How Tissue is Changing
Dr Michael Crichton, a biomedical engineer at Heriot-Watt University and Dr. Jenna Cash, a specialist in wound healing immunology from the University of Edinburgh, have been awarded £360,000 from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to fund a two-year study to develop a microsensor embedded in bandages that will detect wound healing by monitoring the tiny, microscale mechanical changes that happen to the body’s tissue.
Dr. Crichton notes that the sensor will make small mechanical measurements – much like how a doctor would prod a lump – and provide an image as to how the tissue is changing. This will provide the treatment team with information as to whether the wound needs will tell us how the tissue is changing, or whether the wound needs a different dressing or treatment.
“We want to understand what actually happens in a wound. Lots of research has looked at the biological properties of wounds, but we know very little about the mechanics of how wounds heal, especially at the microscale, which is where changes are happening at sub-hair width scales.,” says Dr. Crichton, in an August 12 statement, announcing the new study.
“We’re working to create a small sensor that can be embedded in a bandage to measure changes in a wound’s properties without interfering with the process,” adds Dr. Crichton.
“The sensor will make small mechanical measurements – much like how a doctor would prod a lump – and will tell us how the tissue is changing, or whether the wound needs a different dressing or treatment,” states Crichton, noting that currently health care provides determine the progress of wound treatment by the patient’s reports of pain and visually.
Adds, Dr. Jenna Cash, “Our smart sensor will alert the patient and their care team when intervention is needed to make sure the wound heals better, or when it is all progressing nicely under the bandage.” Dr. Cash views the study to be “an innovative, patient-focused research project that addresses the urgent need for us to better understand wounds.”
“Our work on the immunological response during healing is reflected in mechanical changes, and anything that combines these has the potential for new therapies in this area,” she says.
Implications for Use in Other Treatments
While the HWU research team is investigating how skin wounds heal, their findings “Some tissues and organs have the same structural components as skin, so researchers and practitioners in those areas are likely to take a great interest in our project,” says Dr Crichton.
According to the researchers, the HWU project is likely to stimulate interest from the pharmaceutical industry, where the creams, gels and dressing available for patients and healthcare providers to buy represent a market of billions of dollars.