It isn’t easy to diagnose wound infections before they’ve progressed into a nasty, pussy mess, and many doctors prefer to play it safe by doling out antibiotics early. But a clever new bandage that glows bright green at its first whiff of bad bacteria could help change that.
Led by chemistry professor Toby Jenkins at the University of Bath, the new “smart bandage”—although not yet tested in humans—might one day serve as an early warning system, allowing doctors and patients to detect infections before they get out of hand. The mechanism behind it is pretty clever: the bandage contains a gel-like material infused with tiny, fluorescent green dye-filled capsules. When it comes in contact with toxins produced by pathogenic bacteria, those capsules are punctured. And voila, a lovely green glow signals your unwanted microbial colonists.
An early application of the technology might be burn treatment. Burn victims are often prescribed antibiotics preventively, because doctors are so worried about them developing bad infections. But as we’re acutely aware in the age of antibiotic resistance, this strategy can backfire, resulting in even more aggressive pathogens.
In a recent demonstration, Jenkins and colleagues were able to show that their early-warning bandage glowed green shortly after coming into contact with three pathogenic biofilms, but not after touching harmless bacteria. If future trials go well, the bandage could be ready for clinical testing by 2018.
Let’s just hope we can get these things out to hospitals before the zombie apocalypse strikes—seems like they’re going to be awfully useful.