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After an operation, healthcare professionals, patients, and family and friends all want to know how you’re doing in recovery. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to say, “Gee, I think it’s coming along fine, but let me check with my sutures”? A recent breakthrough with nanosensors woven into sutures by Tufts University engineers may be the first step in smart sutures. Built right into the research from the get-go is output to a smartphone.

Working with rats and in vitro (with living tissue maintained outside a body, for example in a Petri dish), the researchers dipped various types of conductive thread in physical and chemical-sensing compounds. In other words, the compounds are the sensors and the conductive thread is the communications line. The threads were connected to wireless electronic components that could then be sewn into tissue. The compounds sensed what was happening, the thread carried the data to the circuitry, which then wirelessly transmitted. In this research, the data was sent to a cellphone and to a computer.

The combinations of compounds and thread were able to detect data on tissue health such as pressure, stress, strain, and temperature. They were also able to determine pH and blood glucose levels from which they could determine healing status, the presence of infection, and chemical balance. The combination of flexible, implantable sensors that would simultaneously serve suture duty suggests many possible applications, especially with the chances of blending sensing compounds for various purposes.

More testing is needed, as usual, but the possibilities are staggering for patient specific applications. The old images of witch doctors showing up and saying, “Well, let me see, I think I have a few ingredients here that can fix you right up” don’t directly apply, of course, because this is science, but on a higher level the comparison may not be that far off. In the future, if you want to know how you’re healing, there just may be an app for that!