Foot ulcers are a matter of concern for individuals with diabetes. Researchers from Northwestern University in Chicago have created an electronic bandage that may aid those in need of relief.
The breakthrough device was featured in an animal study published on February 22, in the journal Science Advances. Findings show the electric bandage successfully healed diabetic foot ulcers 30% faster than mice without the device.
The device operates by delivering electrotherapy directly to the wound site. Electrotherapy is commonly used for muscle relaxation, in most cases involving the heating of deep tissue electromagnetically or ultrasonically.
Diabetes affects how the body turns food into energy. After eating, the body breaks down food into sugar (glucose) released into the bloodstream. The pancreas receives a signal to increase insulin when blood sugar rises, which is crucial in allowing blood sugar into the body’s cells for energy. The primary forms of diabetes include type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is believed to be caused by the body attacking itself as a mistake, known as an autoimmune reaction. Type 2 diabetes occurs in individuals who don’t process sugar well and cannot keep blood sugar at normal. Although type 1 diabetes can not be prevented, there are steps to prevent type 2 diabetes.
According to the CDC, there are currently 37.3 million Americans living with diabetes and 96 million with pre-diabetes.
Electronic bandage for foot ulcers
Northwestern investigators note diabetic foot ulcers affect 15% to 25% of diabetic patients. In fact, the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Department of Surgery says foot ulceration leads to 85% of diabetes-related amputations.
Diabetic foot ulcers mainly occur on the bottom of the foot, with the risk of foot ulceration and limb amputation rising with age. UCSF highlights foot ulcers are preventable if underlying conditions such as diabetic peripheral neuropathy or peripheral arterial disease are correctly diagnosed or treated.
The electric bandage developed by Northwestern scientists monitors the healing process and dissolves once it is no longer needed in the body. The device copies naturally occurring endogenous electric fields to promote healing.
Co-lead of the Northwestern study, Guillermo A. Ameer, believes the device will be a big help for diabetic patients due to its comfortable, inexpensive, and fast-acting solutions.
"When a person develops a wound, the goal is always to close that wound as quickly as possible," Ameer says. "Otherwise, an open wound is susceptible to infection. And, for people with diabetes, infections are even harder to treat and more dangerous. For these patients, there is a major unmet need for cost-effective solutions that really work for them. Our new bandage is cost-effective, easy to apply, adaptable, comfortable, and efficient at closing wounds to prevent infections and further complications."
The device developed is small, wrapping carefully around the wound. One side of the bandage contains a little flower-shaped electrode that rests on the wound bed and a ring-shaped electrode that is stationed on healthy tissue to surround the whole wound. On the other side of the bandage, an energy-harvesting coil provides power to the system, while a near-field communication (NFC) system gives data to researchers instantly.
Researchers featured sensors to observe the healing process of the wound. Physicians can see the healing process by measuring the resistance of the electrical current across the wound. Continuous decrease of electrical current rates correlates to the healing process.
"As a wound tries to heal, it produces a moist environment," Ameer explains. "Then, as it heals, it should dry up. Moisture alters the current, so we are able to detect that by tracking electrical resistance in the wound. Then, we can collect that information and transmit it wirelessly. With wound care management, we ideally want the wound to close within a month. If it takes longer, that delay can raise concerns."
After the wound is healed, the flower-shaped electrode dissolves in the body. Electrodes for the device are derived from the known-metal molybdenum. Researchers found thin molybdenum is capable of biodegradation and does not negatively affect the healing process.
For the following steps, Ameer and his fellow researcher John A. Rogers plan to test the bandage for diabetic ulcers in a more extensive animal study. As the bandage contains no drugs or biologics, a Northwestern University news release says the drug could enter the marketplace sooner rather than later.