An Australian researcher is developing a bandage that could help treatment of chronic wounds by changing color to reveal the state of the wound beneath.
The invention could improve the quality of life of many, as well as reduce the $500 million cost of chronic wound care in Australia.
CSIRO materials scientist, Louise van der Werff, is presenting her research as part of this year's Fresh Science.
"What I've developed is something that changes color in response to changes in temperature," says van der Werff, who is doing the research as part of a PhD at Monash University in Melbourne.
The research is also supported by a manufacturer of bandages.
Van der Werff's research aims to improve the monitoring and treatment of chronic wounds, such as ulcers, which affect up to 3 per cent of the population, mainly people who are elderly, obese or who have diabetes.
"Some people might have a wound lasting for six months because they get recurring infections that they are not identifying early enough," says van der Werff.
She says infections and inflammation can cause delayed healing, especially when a patient's immune system is compromised.
And because many chronic wound sufferers are at home or in places where their wound may not be constantly monitored, treatment may not come as soon as it should.
Van der Werff's invention is designed to ensure faster diagnosis of wound problems and appropriate treatment to speed up healing.
Her "smart bandage" uses a commercial derivative of cholesterol that changes from red through green to blue as it heats up.
"If you have an infection or inflammation you're likely to get an increase in temperature from a normal state," says van der Werff.
"But a decrease in temperature could be an indication of other problems, for example, compromised blood supply to the wound tissue."
Van der Werff has worked out how to incorporate the color-changing molecule into a fibrous material.
"I've shown that it can be woven or knitted into a fabric and it retains its color-changing behavior," she says.
"I've also done some basic characterization to show how you can use this to monitor temperature."
Van der Werff says the next step is to make a prototype bandage in which the colors have been calibrated to match a particular temperature range.
"We can tune them so you can see a temperature difference of less than half a degree just by looking at the color," she says.
Van der Werff says temperature monitoring is not currently standard practice because it relies on infrared equipment and temperature probes.
"They're all electronic based obviously so they're not really accessible to everyone and they're expensive," she says.
Van der Werff says her new bandage would make it easier and cheaper to monitor changes in temperature of wounds.
The bandage would even allow for patients themselves to be involved in monitoring and diagnosing the state of their wounds, she says.