Research and development entities use the term “smart bandages” to describe their technologies’ function or features. Unfortunately no common understanding of what makes a bandage “smart” has emerged. Smart tech implies the ability to select independently from two or more actions or states in response to one or more variables. We’ve written about Profusa working with the Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies (ASSIST) Center at North Carolina State University on smart bandages that measure tissue oxygen levels with internal sensors. We wrote about MIT’s work with bandages embedded with sensors to detect infection.

Engineers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, working in conjunction with researchers from Harvard Medical School and Tufts University moved the “smart bandage” puck further down the ice with a bandage the team claims will promote faster healing. The group recently published their design and research results in the journal Advanced Functional Materials. The bandage is constructed with electrically conductive, gel-coated fibers. The individual fibers release pharmaceutical products embedded in the gel as directed. A tiny microcontroller in the bandage, equal in size or smaller than a postage stamp, transmits tiny voltage levels to specific fibers. When a fiber is zapped, the voltage heats the gel and releases its contents. When sensors in the bandage detect triggering conditions or triggering events, the data prompts the microcontroller to heat up the proper number of fibers to release the needed drugs. The trick is knowing the correct combination of drugs to load in bandages designed for various medical situations. For example, a bandage placed on a diabetic’s lower leg wound would have different sensors and drug load than bandages in a military battlefield kit.

In the Nebraska experiments, damaged skin regenerated tissue three times faster with the smart bandage than with a standard bandage. According to UN-L mechanical and materials engineering professor, Ali Tamoyali, “This is the first bandage that is capable of dose-dependent drug release. 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.”  Smart bandages loaded with situation-specific pharmaceuticals and the onboard smarts to monitor patients and dispense medication appropriately have significant implications for first aid and medical care.