Scientists at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) are developing a sensing and therapeutic tool designed to help doctors and other healthcare workers better monitor and treat patients’ complex wounds more quickly. UTA is collaborating with an interdisciplinary and medical team of renowned researchers in creating the Sensing, Monitoring And Release of Therapeutics, or “SMART,” bandage system that can monitor and cure wounds in real-time.
UTA electrical engineering professor Weidong Zhou is currently the principal investigator on a $100,000 grant from the Texas Medical Research Collaborative, which will fund the sensor tool research. The Collaborative was founded in 2009 as a research partnership among The University of Texas at Arlington, The University of Texas at Dallas, Texas Instruments, Texas Health Research & Education Institute, the research and medical education arm of Texas Health Resources, and the University of North Texas Health Science Center.
Inspired by the desire to help wounded soldiers, an international multidisciplinary team of researchers led by Assistant Professor Conor L. Evans at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Harvard Medical School (HMS) in 2014 created a paint-on, see-through, “smart” bandage that glows to indicate a wound’s tissue oxygenation concentration. Because oxygen plays a critical role in healing, mapping these levels in severe wounds and burns can help to significantly improve the success of surgeries to restore limbs and physical functions.
The work by Dr. Evans and his colleagues who developed the SMART bandage system was published in 2014 in the Optical Society of America’s journal Biomedical Optics Express, in a paper entitled “Non-invasive transdermal two-dimensional mapping of cutaneous oxygenation with a rapid-drying liquid bandage“ (Biomedical Optics Express Vol. 5, Issue 11, pp. 3748-3764 (2014) doi: 10.1364/BOE.5.003748), coauthored by Zongxi Li, Emmanuel Roussakis, Pieter G. L. Koolen, Ahmed M. S. Ibrahim, Kuylhee Kim, Lloyd F. Rose, Jesse Wu, Alexander J. Nichols, Yunjung Baek, Reginald Birngruber, Gabriela Apiou-Sbirlea, Robina Matyal, Thomas Huang, Rodney Chan, Samuel J. Lin, and Dr. Evans representing institutions in America, South Korea, Germany, and the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research.
The paper coauthors noted that oxygen plays an important role in wound healing, being essential to biological processes such as cell proliferation, immune responses and collagen synthesis. Accordingly, poor oxygenation is directly associated with the development of chronic ischemic wounds, which they say affect more than 6 million people annually in the United States alone, at an estimated cost of $25 billion.
The researchers noted that knowledge of oxygenation status is also important in the management of burns and skin grafts, as well as in a wide range of skin conditions, but observe that despite the importance of the clinical determination of tissue oxygenation, there is a lack of rapid, user-friendly and quantitative diagnostic tools that allow for non-disruptive, continuous monitoring of oxygen content across large areas of skin and wounds to guide care and therapeutic decisions.
In their paper, the investigators describe a sensitive, colorimetric, oxygen-sensing paint-on bandage for two-dimensional mapping of tissue oxygenation in skin, burns, and skin grafts, explaining that by embedding both an oxygen-sensing porphyrin-dendrimer phosphor and a reference dye in a liquid bandage matrix, they have created a liquid bandage that can be painted onto the skin surface and dries into a thin-film that adheres tightly to the skin or wound topology. When captured by a camera-based imaging device, the oxygen-dependent phosphorescence emission of the bandage can be used to quantify and map both the pO2 and oxygen consumption of the underlying tissue.
Dr. Zhou’s nanophotonics lab (nPLab) at UTA is working on a range of active research projects in the areas of photonic crystal infrared photodetectors, silicon-based detectors, lasers, and modulators, bio-inspired photonics, and cost-effective solar cells, etc, based on photonic crystals, semiconductor nanomembranes, quantum dots, and other nanoscale structures.
“The SMART Bandage will be a flexible, portable tool that a doctor can place over a patient’s wound,” said Dr. Zhou, who has authored and co-authored over 200 journal publications and conference presentations, including 80+ journal publications, and 30+ invited conference talks, and is a Fellow of SPIE — the international society for optics and photonics — in a UTA release. “Besides giving the patient medicine in real time, the tool also will be non-invasive to the patient. It can eliminate bulky devices that are used now. We hope the SMART Bandage will ease patients pain and help their healing.”
Dr. Zhou brings imaging and nanomaterial expertise to the UTA research team, and has generated more than $6 million in funding for research during the last 10 years in the area of nanophotonics, nanomaterials and micro-optics.
The UTA research team also includes Liping Tang, a UTA bioengineering professor, who will handle in vivo testing of the device. Dr. Tang, whose expertise is in biomaterials, tissue engineering, biodegradable polymer scaffolding and tissue generation, acknowledges that currently doctors must observe directly to see if a wound is progressing. “This device will give doctors hard data concerning the wound,” he says. “We believe it will take much of the guesswork out of the equation. Doctors can direct therapy and patient care based on data.”
Dr. Tang is a 2012 Fellow of the American Institute of Biological and Medical Engineering, and has generated more than $3 million in funding during the last three years from organizations such as the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of the Army.
Another UTA researcher on the project is Yaowu Hao, an associate professor in the UTA Materials and Science Engineering Department. Dr. Hao has expertise in manufacturing and application of novel nanostructures, and the optic behavior of those nanostructures. He has received a $291,350 NSF grant recently to research hollow nanoparticle synthesis as used in nanotechnology.
Dr. Hao and UT Dallas associate professor of chemistry Jie Zheng will work on imaging and the particle nanosensor probe, which will be a part of the sensing and therapeutic tool. “Part of the goal is to make the device affordable and cost-effective,” Dr. Hao explains.
Other team members include UT Dallas assistant professor of Materials Science Engineering Walter Voit and Texas Health Resources vascular surgeon Dr. F. Jon Senkowsky. Dr. Voit’s specialty is in polymer and chip design, while Dr. Senkowsky is the medical consultant on the
team and will help in the device’s design.
Khosrow Behbehani, dean of the UTA College of Engineering, observes that the interdisciplinary, inter-institutional team and the SMART bandage system could provide caregivers with an effective way of treating wounds, a very important part of medical care for injured and post-surgery patients. “It also could lead to devising wearable health-monitoring devices that are less costly and more accurate than current systems,” Dr. Behbehani said. “The applications for such a technology are quite numerous.”
The University of Texas at Arlington
Wellman Center for Photomedicine of Massachusetts General Hospital
Biomedical Optics Express