Aug. 27, 2012 at 3:57 PM ET
A stitch in time might save a little more than nine now that researchers have successfully developed electronic sutures that monitor wounds and help speed up the healing process.
Invented by John Rogers, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the smart stitches contain ultrathin silicon sensors that can be blended with polymer or silk strips thin enough to thread through needles. In animal tests, Rogers and his team were able to lace the sutures through skin and knot them without damaging the sensors.
Because elevated temperatures can indicate infection, the sutures monitor temperature at the wound site. The stitches can also deliver heat, which can aid healing.
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However, Rogers envisions that they could also be used to deliver medicine.
"Ultimately, the most value would be when you can release drugs from them in a programmed way," he said, according to Technology Review.
Doing so would mean coating the electronic sutures with drug-infused polymers that can release chemicals when prompted by heat or an electrical pulse.
The team built two kinds of sensors: A silicon diode that changes its current output according to temperature and a platinum nanomembrane resistor that alters its resistance to temperature. The sutures' micro-heaters, made of gold filaments, produce heat when an electric current passes through them.
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All materials are safe for use in the body. However, the researchers have only tested the sutures on rat skin. Next on their to-do list: making the smart stitches wireless.