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Glowing bandage could provide early infection detection for burn patients

A new class of intelligent bandages is on its way, and may transform how doctors treat wounds, especially in burn patients who are highly susceptible to infection. This latest innovation comes out of the U.K. where researchers at the University of Bath have developed a dressing that turns fluorescent green when a wound becomes infected, reports MIT Technology Review.

The mechanism of how the bandage work is brilliantly simple. The dressing portion of the bandage contains a hydrogel material infused with tiny capsules of non-toxic fluorescent dye. When bacteria enter a wound and multiply to cause an infection, they release a toxin that enters the dye-containing capsules. The toxin causes the dye capsules to burst open and release their fluorescent dye, which then begins to glow when it mixes with the bandage’s gel matrix.

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The identification of these toxins is a critical component of the intelligent dressing, providing an early detection system for infections that could save lives. These toxins often are released when a bacterial population grows large enough to form a biofilm and overwhelm the immune system. “We believe that this transition normally happens several hours, if not longer, before any clinical symptoms become evident,” said biophysical chemistry professor Toby Jenkins. In experiments, this toxin detection system allows the bandage to detect an infection within four hours of biofilm formation. This early detection may save lives by allowing a doctor to prescribe a course of antibiotics during the early stages of an infection when it is still easily treatable.

A recent demonstration of the bandage technology showed it worked specifically with pathogenic bacteria and not all bacteria. In their trials, the team worked with the most common pathogenic bacteria including Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus, and Enterococcus faecalis.

To further its work, the team is collaborating with researchers from the University of Bristol pediatric burn system. The project was recently aided by a grant to explore whether the bandage technology could be used to detect infection in pediatric burn patients. An infection detection system would stop the practice of prescribing heavy doses of antibiotics following a burn and would allow doctors to prescribe the medicine only when needed.