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'Smart' dressing detects infection, reduces antibiotics overuse

16 November 2015

A ‘smart’ medical dressing that changes colour when it detects infection will improve treatments for burns patients and help reduce the unnecessary use of antibiotics.

The prototype dressing glows brightly when a wound becomes infected, allowing doctors to diagnose infections quickly and accurately at the bedside

It is currently extremely difficult for doctors to diagnose infections quickly and at the patient’s bedside. Existing methods take up to 48 hours and require removing the wound dressing which is painful and distressing for the patient and may result in slower healing and potentially life-long scarring.

Due to this time delay, when a child with a burn shows symptoms of a possible infection, the clinician often has to treat them with antibiotics as a precaution before their infection is confirmed.

However, treatment with antibiotics when there is no infection can lead to bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance has been identified by world leaders as one of the biggest health threats we face today.

Scientists from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Bath, in collaboration with the Healing Foundation Children’s Burns Research Centre, based at the Bristol Children’s Hospital, and the University of Brighton have developed a prototype dressing that will change colour as soon as the wound is infected.

This will enable doctors to quickly treat only those patients with an infection, without giving unnecessary antibiotics to patients who may simply have symptoms due to a cold.

“Our medical dressing works by releasing fluorescent dye from nanocapsules triggered by the toxins secreted by disease-causing bacteria within the wound," says project leader, Dr Toby Jenkins, Reader in Biophysical Chemistry at Bath. “The nanocapsules mimic skin cells in that they only break open when toxic bacteria are present; they aren’t affected by the harmless bacteria that normally live on healthy skin. Using this dressing will allow clinicians to quickly identify infections without removing it, meaning that patients can be diagnosed and treated faster. It could really help to save lives.”

The team has been awarded almost £1 million by the Medical Research Council, through the Biomedical Catalyst funding stream, to test the responsiveness of the prototype dressing to samples taken from the wounds of burns victims.

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