After surgeons sew up tissue after surgery, they want to monitor in case of infection or strain. One future possibility for doing that: “smart thread” that broadcasts data from deep in the wound.
Over the last 18 months, Tufts University engineers have been developing a toolkit of threads coated with different chemicals. They can measure pH, resistance and glucose, indicating the health of the post-surgery area. The threads generate electrical outputs that are sent out through a wire to a device on the skin outside the body. From there, they can be interpreted on a cellphone.
“We kept on having this problem of how we get deep into the tissue so we can monitor the wound,” says Sameer Sonkusale, director of the Nano Lab at the Tufts School of Engineering. “Most of the sensors [available] are 2D. They’re either outside [the body] or they don’t penetrate deep. The best substrate you can use is a thread, because you can suture them in wherever you want.”
The research, recently published in the journal Microsystems & Nanoengineering, is at an early stage. More testing with animals will tell whether the chemical-dipped threads are “biocompatible.” It will be at least two years before Sonkusale tests the idea with humans.
But he says the technology could also be used in flesh-wound bandages, meaning we could see it on the market sooner. “If it’s like a bandage or wearable device, and not really penetrating the tissues, it’s much easier to get the approvals,” he says. “You can use them without suturing them into the tissue and still know if something is infected or healing.”