Bio bandage, the next ‘Holy Grail’ in medical technology!

Smart skin may help us interact with machines or monitor our health parameters constantly

By Kiran N. Kumar

In a major finding, researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), Germany have developed a film that acts as a biological bandage. It also helps wounds to heal faster, repels bacteria, dampens inflammation, releases active pharmaceutical ingredients in a targeted manner and finally dissolves by itself.

With its dedicated all-in-one design using mucins, molecules which occur naturally in mucous membranes of humans, this unique bio bandage could also be used in surgery to protect internal wounds which are inaccessible after closure of an incision for surgery. They are also apt for soft-tissue injuries such as on the tongue or on sensitive surfaces like the intestines.

Though several materials are addressing the medical need, here’s an all-in-one solution developed by the German team led by Oliver Lieleg, Professor of Biomechanics at TUM. The biopolymer film combines a wide range of different functions with highly promising results.

Read: Indian American Manu Prakash innovates medical use for ancient paper toy whirligig (April 10, 2017)

“When dry, the thin and flexible film can be picked up with tweezers and can easily be placed onto a wound. Upon contact with moist tissue, the bottom side of the film becomes squishy and sticky and adheres to the tissue by itself – without requiring additional fixation,” explains Ceren Kimna, first author of the study. Covering a skin wound with this film even paced up the healing process, she says.

Electronic skin
On similar lines, the current medical technology materials are increasingly bringing new inventions to life that the contours of the medical field may change dramatically in a few decades. The body film or a thin biological film on our hand may help us interact with machines or monitor our health parameters constantly.

Skin is the largest sensory organ and the protective coat of human beings, besides acting as an intermediary in feeling several sensory inputs and reports information about humidity, temperature and pressure to the brain instantly.

Several fields of application are now opening up for the skin-like hybrid material that can detect microorganisms and report them to brain. Also in the pipeline are prostheses that give the wearer information about temperature or humidity, or robots that can perceive their environment more sensitively.

Among all these, here’s a smart skin that scores with a decisive advantage: the sensory nanorods – the “smart core” of the material – are produced using a vapor-based manufacturing process, which is already an established process in production plants for integrated circuits. The production of smart skin can thus be easily scaled up and implemented easily.

Anna Maria Coclite, a researcher of the Institute of Solid State Physics at TU Graza says material with such multisensory properties is “a kind of ‘Holy Grail’ in medical technology using intelligent artificial materials. Especially, robotics and smart prosthetics would benefit from a better integrated, more precise sensing system similar to human skin, she says.

Coclite has recently succeeded in developing the three-in-one hybrid material “smart skin” using a novel process, as per the research publication in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies.

With 2,000 individual sensors per square millimeter, they found this hybrid smart skin is even more sensitive than a human fingertip. Each of these sensors consists of a unique combination of materials: a smart polymer in the form of a hydrogel inside and a shell of piezoelectric zinc oxide.

“The hydrogel can absorb water and thus expands upon changes in humidity and temperature. In doing so, it exerts pressure on the piezoelectric zinc oxide, which responds to this and all other mechanical stresses with an electrical signal,” says Anna Maria Coclite.

The result is a wafer-thin biofilm that reacts simultaneously to force, moisture and temperature with extremely high spatial resolution and emits corresponding electronic signals.

Read: Pressure-sensitive medical adhesives: In search of the holy grail (August 13, 2022)

“The first artificial skin samples are six micrometers thin, or 0.006 millimeters. But it could be even thinner,” she says. In comparison, the human epidermis is 0.03 to 2 millimeters thick. The human skin perceives things from a size of about one square millimeter. The individual sensor layers are very thin and at the same time equipped with sensor elements covering the entire surface.

The smart skin has a resolution that is a thousand times smaller and can register objects or microorganisms that are too small for human skin. This was made possible by researchers who combined three known methods from physical chemistry for the first time – a chemical vapor deposition for the hydrogel material, an atomic layer deposition for the zinc oxide and nanoimprint lithography for the polymer template.

The properties of smart skin are now being optimized even further as Coclite and her team want to extend the temperature range to which the material reacts and improve the flexibility of the artificial skin.

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