Sutures are often mocked as archaic in science fiction. After all, the practice has been around for at least 5,000 years. Surely, medicine should have modernized since ancient Egypt. Professor Hossam Haick at Wolfson Department of Chemical Engineering at Technion has made science fiction a reality. His lab successfully developed a smart sutureless dressing that keeps the wound together, prevents infection, and informs the wound’s condition straight to the doctors’ computers. Their research was published in Advanced Materials.
In this process, before initiating a procedure, Prof. Haick’s lab will place the dressing, which is similar to a smart band-aid, to the planned incision site. After that, the incision will be created through it. Post-surgery, the two ends of the wound will be pulled at the same time, and the dressing will stick itself together, keeping the wound closed in the same way that sutures do. The dressing will then carefully monitor the wound, track the healing process, look for signs of infection including changes in glucose levels, pH, and temperature, and notify the medical personnel’s smart devices. Moreover, the dressing will discharge antibiotics onto the wound area, avoiding infection.
In 2015, the first paper on a self-healing sensor was published. The sensor needed about 24 hours to repair itself at the time. By 2020, sensors could heal in under a minute, but while they had many applications, they were not yet biocompatible, which meant they couldn’t be utilised in touch with skin or blood. The next step was to develop a polymer that was both self-healing and biocompatible, which was accomplished by a postdoctoral associate Dr. Ning Tang, at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
The new polymer, comprised of sulfur and nitrogen, has a structure of a molecular zipper: the surgeon’s scalpel opens it, and when pressed together, it shuts and holds fast. Integrated carbon nanotubes enable sensor array integration and electric conductivity and. In trials, wounds closed with the smart dressing healed as swiftly as those fixed with sutures and had lower rates of infection.
“It’s a new approach to wound treatment,” Prof. Haick stated. “We introduce the advances of the fourth industrial revolution—smart interconnected devices, into the day-to-day treatment of patients.”