Newly developed “smart” thread could open the way for new generation of implantable and wearable diagnostic gadgets.
Engineers at Tufts University have been leading a research team to study the integration of microfluidics, electronics and nanoscale sensors into threads. These threads are the types that are commonly used for suturing and range from sophisticated synthetic threats to simple cotton ones. When these threads containing the high-end electronics are sutured down deep into multiple tissue layers, they are able to wirelessly gather up diagnostic information in real-time.
Conductive threads were first dipped into compounds that could sense chemicals as well as physical items. These were then connected to an electronic and wireless circuit, which created a platform that could be sutured in vitro and into rat tissue. The threads were able to detect health data such as temperature, stress and pressure, glucose and pH levels. With these results a physician would be able to know exactly how a deep wound is healing. If there is any sign of infection, the threads will be able to pick it up. As well, the threads let the doctor know whether there is any type of imbalance in the body’s chemistry.
This new discovery could very well potentially lead to new diagnostic devices that can be implanted as well as wearable smart systems. The results can be wirelessly transmitted to a computer or even to a cell phone.
More study is required in terms of biocompatibility on a long-term basis. So far, however, initial results indicate that optimizing treatments that are patient-specific is a future possibility.
Sameer Sonkusale, Ph.D., is the interdisciplinary Nano Lab director at the School of Engineering at Tufts University and is a corresponding author on this research paper. He said that this concept is unique since it cannot be done with other diagnostic flexible platforms. Being able to suture a diagnostic device on a thread into a 3 dimension platform in an organ or tissue environment could lead to smart bandages that would be able to monitor wounds as they heal as well as smart sutures that could be used with surgical implants. He went on to add that health monitors could also potentially be personalized with fabric or textile. Point-of-care diagnostics with fabric or textile would also be a possibility.
The first author on this paper, Pooria Mostafalu, Ph.D., added that thread is inexpensive and flexible enough to be formed into either simple or complex shapes.
This is a new and unique platform with 3 dimensions having the ability to conform not only to wounds but to orthopedic implants, organs and many other complex structures. Substrate structures have been pretty much 2-dimensional until now according to the research paper. This has meant that substrates could only be used where tissue lies flat, such as on the skin. As well, expensive substrate materials that needed processing have only been used to date.
Research has been published in the journal of Microsystems & Nanoengineering.