Researchers at the University of Bologna are building prototypes of bandages with built-in RFID chips and antennas so that patients and doctors can obtain data about the healing process based on humidity levels without removing the dressing and potentially interfering wounds.
On December 7, 2021, European researchers developed an RFID-enabled smart bandage designed to wirelessly transmit data about the wound healing process based on moisture content, thereby reducing the need to remove patient dressings and physically inspect the wound. The smart bandage developed by the University of Bologna is composed of what researchers call humidity sensing materials, a built-in UHF RFID chip, an antenna woven in the bandage fabric, and an off-the-shelf FID reader that uses impedance measurement. It is transmitted through RFID to determine the amount of liquid present. To determine the health of the wound.
The team is developing prototypes that can be 3D printed and built into commercial bandages. Researchers are also testing the system using Near Field Communication (NFC) technology so that users can use smartphones instead of dedicated RFID readers to capture data wirelessly. Beatrice Fraboni, a professor of physics at the University of Bologna, said that in the long run, the team hopes to collaborate with technology companies to commercialize the solution and obtain approval to start testing on living patients. Fraboni and her colleagues published an article about their research in Frontiers of Physics.
So far, Fraboni said, “The team has developed a series of bandages with different layers and different absorption properties and characteristics,” which may vary depending on a person’s specific wound and healing requirements. For example, the way of monitoring the healing process of burns is different from that of surgical incisions. The healing process of burns requires some moisture, and moisture in the incision may indicate a potential infection.
"'Our idea is that every type of wound can have its own suitable dressing," Flaboni explained, "from wounds with slow exudation to wounds with high exudation." Traditional wound treatment usually requires a doctor. And the patient goes through the destructive process of opening the wound for physical examination. Removal of the wound dressing usually tears the healing tissue and causes damage, and this examination can be time-consuming for patients, who usually need to see a doctor to examine the wound.
The research team focused on building a solution that includes wireless smart textiles. The bandage is made of a conductive polymer called poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene) polystyrene sulfonate (PEDOT:PSS). This layer is screen-printed on gauze and can be used to identify moisture content. Variety. The RFID chip is connected to two antennas woven through the fabric. The team’s design and engineering work involves the use of a layer of material that, once moisture is detected, can absorb and remove the liquid so that the next reading reflects the current moisture status.
The smart bandage system monitors impedance changes based on the response to the RFID reader's query. The impedance will vary according to the dry or wet state of the antenna. The team designed the system so that the settings of the reader can be adjusted to detect the appropriate sensor value based on the amount of impedance to achieve optimal healing for various wounds. Fraboni recalled that the development of the system started with the selection of materials, and the team wanted the materials to be biocompatible, disposable, and inexpensive.
Fraboni said that PEDOT:PSS fits these requirements. She pointed out that because it can be screen printed on two different types of gauze-gauze rayon and gauze PET-this material reduces potential manufacturing costs and energy requirements associated with manufacturing. The conductive polymer is printed in the form of a thread passing through the middle of the gauze, while two stainless steel conductive threads are sewn on the conductive coating to serve as an RFID antenna. The chip uses a unique ID number for encoding, which is transmitted when interrogated by the reader.
Fraboni explained that if the technology can be printed directly on gauze, it can reduce manufacturing costs and environmental impact. The standard manufacturing process of depositing semiconductors into sensor devices (for example, for RFID tag construction) can be eliminated, as can the chemicals and energy used. In a typical use case, the doctor can apply a bandage to the patient's wound, and then send the patient home a borrowed handheld UHF RFID reader (with firmware and settings for the wound). In this way, for the needs of each patient, a threshold can be set, at which an alert can be sent to the doctor.
The patient will be instructed to interrogate the RFID tag built into the bandage at specific intervals (for example, every eight hours). The data will be captured by the reader and can be displayed on the patient's device screen. It can also be transmitted to healthcare providers via a cellular connection. The unique ID of the bandage associated with the patient and impedance-based sensor readings can provide the doctor with information indicating how the patient’s wound is healing.
Fraboni said that although there are already some commercial RFID systems that can detect moisture in specific applications, such as monitoring diapers in hospital environments and detecting leaks in automotive systems, smart bandages are designed to be more sensitive and can detect between 5 and 20 microliters. (0.0003 and 0.0007 ounces).
Fraboni said the researchers are now working on a prototype. The plan is to build humidity impedance sensors directly into commercial bandages to provide wound healing management. It is expected that the next prototype will involve an NFC version of the bandage that can be inquired via a smartphone. The researchers hope to cooperate with technology companies that can bring the product to the market.
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