Healing Wounds With The Power Of Electricity

Once upon a time, even a simple cut or scrape could be a death sentence. Before germ theory and today’s scientific understanding of medicine, infections ran rampant and took many lives.

While we’re now well-armed with disinfectants, dressings, and antibiotics, scientists are continuing to investigate new and unique methods to improve the treatment of wounds. As it turns out, a little electricity might actually help wounds heal faster.

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A Smart Bandage For Monitoring Chronic Wounds

Here at Hackaday, we’re always enthralled by cool biohacks and sensor development that enable us to better study and analyze the human body. We often find ourselves perusing Google Scholar and PubMed to find the coolest projects even if it means going back in time a year or two. It was one of those scholarly excursions that brought us to this nifty smart bandage for monitoring wound healing by the engineers of FlexiLab at Purdue University. The device uses an omniphobic (hydrophobic and oleophobic) paper-based substrate coupled with an onboard impedance analyzer (AD5933), an electrochemical sensor (the same type of sensor in glucometers) for measuring uric acid and pH (LMP91000), and a 2.4 GHz antenna for wirelessly transmitting the data (nRF24L01). All this is programmed with an Arduino Nano. They even released their source code.

To detect uric acid, they used the enzyme uricase, which is very specific to uric acid and exhibits low cross-reactivity with other compounds. They drop cast uric acid onto a silver/silver chloride electrode printed on the omniphobic paper. Similarly, to detect pH, they drop cast a pH-responsive polymer called polyaniline emeraldine salt (PANI-ES) between two separate silver/silver chloride electrodes. All that was left was to attach the electrodes to the LMP91000, do a bit of programming, and there they were with their own electrochemical sensor. The impedance analyzer was a bit simpler to develop, simply attaching un-modified electrodes to the AD5933 and placing the electrodes on the wound.

The authors noted that the device uses a much simpler manufacturing process compared to smart bandages published by other academics, being compatible with large-scale manufacturing techniques such as roll-to-roll printing. Overcoming manufacturing hurdles is a critical step in getting your idea into the hands of consumers. Though they have a long way to go, FlexiLab appears to be on the right track. We’ll check back in every so often to see what they’re up to.

Until then, take a look at some other electric bandage projects on Hackaday or even make your own electrochemical sensor.

Kind Of The Opposite Of A Lightsaber

Lightsabers are an elegant weapon for a more civilized age. Did you ever consider that cutting people’s hands off with a laser sword means automatically cauterized wounds and that lack of blood results in a gentler rating from the Motion Picture Association? Movie guidelines aside, a cauterizing pen is found in some first aid kits, but at their core, they are a power source and a heating filament. Given the state of medical technology, this is due for an upgrade, and folks at Arizona State University are hitting all the marks with a combination of near-infrared lasers, gold particles, and protein matrix from silk.

Cauterizing relies on intense heat, or chemicals, to burn flesh but this process uses less power by aiming the near-IR laser at only the selected areas, and since near-IR can penetrate soft-tissue it goes deep without extra heating. The laser heats the gold, and that activates the silk proteins. Early results are positive but lots of testing remains and it still will not belong in the average first aid kit for a while, lasers and all, but surgery for beloved pets and tolerable humans could have recovery time reduced with this advance.

If this doesn’t sate your need for magical space knight weaponry, we have options aplenty.

Via IEEE Spectrum. Image: starwars.com