WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Smart bandages that can heal wounds faster, identify disease and talk with doctors will help doctors track how well wounds are healing and help people heal faster
When you think of medical 3D printing applications, and there are plenty of them to choose from, your mind might turn to 3D printed bones, brains, cartilage, hearts, kidneys and skin, or even “Humans on Chips” – that is, at least, if you read my blog and stay up to date with everything, but now the VTT Technical Research Center in Finland has managed to notch up another healthcare first and 3D print a bandage that not only heals wounds faster and reduces scarring, but monitors it and wirelessly transmits bio-data back to the local doctors.
Using cellulose nanofibrils, that when clumped together look like white butter, the team at VTT made, what they call a “wound care” product, that lets them attach the proteins used in wound healing to a 3D printed adhesive bandage to help promote the growth of skin cells around a wound in a flexible, not rigid, way, which also means patients are less likely to suffer from scarring – something that we’ve seen before, albeit in a slightly different form as a regenerative bandage.
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According to the team nanofibrils are well suited to the development of 3D printed pastes because they have a high level of mechanical strength, as well as being slightly viscous and biodegradable, then, just in general, the use of cellulose itself has a positive effect on a 3D printed structure’s moisture tolerance, rigidity, and flexibility – all of which helps when dealing with wounds.
“By using nanocellulose, we have succeeded in creating 3D structures that absorb liquids three times more efficiently than the compared alginate fibre dressings commonly used in wound care,” said Panu Lahtinen, a senior scientist at VTT, “and by absorbing moisture from a wound, the materials can ultimately shorten healing time.”
The new 3D printed wound care product can even incorporate flexible electronics, and the company’s prototype combines nanocellulose, a protein used in wound care and printed electronics.
To make the bandage “smart” though the team 3D printed silver ink onto a thin film of Polyurethane-Nanocellulose and integrated it with a wireless reader, that, to all intents and purposes is directly “connected” to the wound. This “FlexNode” as they call it is then capable of wirelessly transmitting a variety of different types of data, such as temperature or bioimpedance data, directly from the site of the wound to a hospital computer which then allows medical staff to stay in touch with how well, or not, the wound is healing, and the new bandage also has the added benefit of being able to alert them to signs of infection and other complications before they become a problem.
However, while the teams progress to date has been good the FDA hasn’t yet approved nanocellulose for medical use so as a result the team are trying out other uses for their new materials, including bio-based printing for textiles and new therapy applications, but if the medical world decides that nanocellulose should be approved for medical use, it might not be long before we see skin-encouraging, message-transmitting wound care on patients around the globe.
The teams paper, “3D Printable Bioactivated Nanocellulose – Alginate Hydrogels” was published in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.