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New sensor could help manage how wounds heal

3D image of a wound, made using optical coherence tomography Photo: Heriot-Watt University/PA

A sensor is being developed which could help patients, doctors and nurses manage how a wound heals.

Engineers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh will work on the microsensor that can monitor tiny, microscale mechanical changes to the body’s tissue.

It is estimated wounds cost the NHS about £4.5 billion to £5.1 billion with resources used on burns, diabetic ulcers, caesarean section scars, surgical incisions and simple cuts.

Dr Michael Crichton, who has been awarded £360,000 from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council for the project, said the aim is to “understand what actually happens in a wound”.

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He added: “Lots of research has looked at the biological properties of wounds, but we know very little about the mechanics of how wounds heal, especially at the microscale, which is where changes are happening at sub-hair width scales.

“We’re working to create a small sensor that can be embedded in a bandage to measure changes in a wound’s properties without interfering with the process.

“The sensor will make small mechanical measurements – much like how a doctor would prod a lump – and will tell us how the tissue is changing, or whether the wound needs a different dressing or treatment.

“At the moment, we judge the progress of wounds on patients’ reports of pain and how the wound looks to the naked eye of health professionals.

“Our smart sensor will alert the patient and their care team when intervention is needed to make sure the wound heals better, or when it is all progressing nicely under the bandage.”

Dr Crichton monitored tiny, microscale mechanical changes that happen to the body’s tissue Credit: Heriot-Watt University/PA)[

It is hoped the project will spark interest from the pharmaceutical industry, with the creams, gels and dressing available as other viable treatment options.

Dr Crichton is working with Dr Jenna Cash, a specialist in wound healing immunology from the University of Edinburgh, on the two-year project.

She said: “This is an innovative, patient-focused research project that addresses the urgent need for us to better understand wounds.

“Our work on the immunological response during healing is reflected in mechanical changes and anything that combines these has the potential for new therapies in this area.”