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Water-based 'Band-Aid' does more than just protect a wound

08 December 2015

MIT's stretchable hydrogel can be embedded with electronic components such as LEDs and temperature sensors and could even deliver drugs to the skin.

Here, a sheet of hydrogel is bonded to a matrix of polymer islands (red) that can encapsulate electronic components such as semiconductor chips, LEDs, and temperature sensors (photo: Melanie Gonick/MIT)

MIT engineers have designed what might be the Band-Aid of the future: a sticky, stretchy, gel-like material that can incorporate temperature sensors, LEDs and other electronics, as well as tiny, drug-delivering reservoirs and channels.

The 'smart wound dressing' releases medicine in response to changes in skin temperature and can be designed to light up if, say, medicine is running low.

When the dressing is applied to a highly flexible area, such as the elbow or knee, it stretches with the body, keeping the embedded electronics functional and intact.

The key to the design is a hydrogel matrix designed by Xuanhe Zhao, an associate Professor in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. In recent work, the team reports embedding various electronics within the hydrogel, such as conductive wires, semiconductor chips, LEDs, and temperature sensors.

Zhao says electronics coated in hydrogel may be used not just on the surface of the skin but also inside the body, for example as implanted, bio-compatible glucose sensors, or even soft, compliant neural probes.

“Electronics are usually hard and dry, but the human body is soft and wet. These two systems have drastically different properties,” Zhao says. “If you want to put electronics in close contact with the human body for applications such as health care monitoring and drug delivery, it is highly desirable to make the electronic devices soft and stretchable to fit the environment of the human body. That’s the motivation for stretchable hydrogel electronics.”

An article describing this work is published in the journal Advanced Materials.

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