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Researchers Secure Major Grant to Develop Smart Wound Dressing Embedded with Optical Fiber Sensors

Researchers at the University of Nottingham have received a major grant to design a unique smart wound dressing that would allow doctors to assess whether an affected tissue is infected or healing appropriately.

(Image credit: University of Nottingham)

The innovative disposable dressing, integrated with optical fiber sensors, could make a major impact on patient care as well as healthcare expenses associated with wound management, which is estimated to be £4.5–£5.1 billion every year—a figure which is over 4% of the NHS budget.

A major part of this cost is accounted by diabetic foot ulcers, standing at almost £1 billion. As a result, the project will initially focus on these hard-to-heal wounds. Through improved wound monitoring, about 7,000 lower limb amputations that affect diabetic patients in England every year, could be reduced drastically.

Thanks to a £902,524 grant from the Medical Research Council, we can develop a real step change in the care of chronic wounds. Our smart wound dressing incorporates optical fibre sensors which will remotely monitor multiple biomarkers associated with wound management such as temperature, humidity and pH, providing a more complete picture of the healing process. At present, regular wound redressing is the only way to visually assess healing rates, however this exposure can encourage infection, disrupt progress and creates a huge economic burden on NHS resources. Instead our technology will indicate the optimum time to change the dressing and send out an alert if intervention is required with infected or slow-healing wounds to improve patient care and cut the number of healthcare appointments needed.

Steve Morgan, Professor, Director, and Royal Society Industry Fellow, Centre for Healthcare Technologies, University of Nottingham.

The proposed sensors, designed and verified by the center in lab tests, will be developed in extremely thin (about 100 µm diameter), low-cost, flexible, and lightweight optical fibers. Afterward, this versatile platform will be integrated into the fabric that will feel and look exactly the same as a traditional wound dressing.

To assess the wound’s status on a continuous basis, the dressing will be linked to a reusable and standalone optoelectronic unit. This unit, in turn, will be able to receive and transmit light to and from the sensors, conveying vital information to both the clinicians and patient. Wireless transfer connected to a mobile phone will help in achieving this.

Although the cost of the smart wound dressing will be slightly more when compared to the regular dressing, fewer clinical visits or dressing changes and also reduced healing time will offset the higher initial cost. In fact, even a mere 10% reduction in costs related to appointments and visits can translate to £300 million yearly savings to the NHS alone.

In total, the project will be conducted for 34 months—product development will involve 24 months, and chronic wound patient feedback and clinical assessment will require 10 months.

The project team includes Dr Sergiy Korposh, Dr Ricardo Correia, Professor Barrie Hayes-Gill from the University of Nottingham; Professor Fran Game from the University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust; and Professor William Jeffcoate, Dr Kamal Chokkalingam, Alison Musgrove, and Professor Dan Clark from Nottingham University Hospitals Trust. Footfalls and Heartbeats (UK) is the industry partner.

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