With the rise in wearable technology telling us everything from how many steps we’ve walked to our current heart rate, it may be no surprise to some that researchers have taken things to the next step. According to Tufts University, a team of engineers has created so-called “smart stitches,” stitches that gather diagnostic data in real time.
The new stitches combine nano-scale sensors, electronics, and microfluidics into threads that are then sutured through the patient’s tissue and collect data on the tissue health, pH, and glucose levels. They can even take information on any stress or strain experienced in the tissue. That information can tell how effectively the wound is healing and whether an infection could develop.
The smart stitches don’t just store that information, though. They can send that data wirelessly to a computer or smart phone, so doctors have all the necessary information they need on a patient they are treating.
Unlike previous versions of implantable devices, these smart stitches are three-dimensional, and can conform to organs, orthopedic implants, or wounds. Because the stitches can be made with anything from cotton to synthetics, they are cost effective to produce.
“The ability to suture a thread-based diagnostic device intimately in a tissue or organ environment in three dimensions adds a unique feature that is not available with other flexible diagnostic platforms,” said Sameer Sonkusale, Ph.D., corresponding author on the paper and director of the interdisciplinary Nano Lab in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Tufts School of Engineering, in a news release. “We think thread-based devices could potentially be used as smart sutures for surgical implants, smart bandages to monitor wound healing, or integrated with textile or fabric as personalized health monitors and point-of-care diagnostics.”
A study of the smart stitches was published July 18 in the journal Nature.
So far, the stitches have been tested in the stomachs of rats and have been tested in vitro. Researchers recommend additional studies be done on the bio-compatibility of proposed cotton-based threads, which would indicate whether patients are likely to have an immune response to long-term use of the smart stitches.
In the meantime, the breakthrough holds a great deal of promise for surgical implants, smart bandages, and other medical devices.
“We believe that such a [thread-based diagnostic device] could eventually find a wide range of applications, such as smart sutures for surgical implants, smart bandages to monitor wound healing, integration with textile or fabric as personalized health monitors and point-of-care diagnostics, and embedding into engineered tissue constructs for organ-on-a-chip platforms,” researchers wrote.