Researchers Invent ‘Smart' Thread to monitor wounds as they heal

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In the medicine world, stitches are the epitome of low-tech. You get cut, and just like a seamstress with a pair of ripped trousers, your doctor simply sews you up. But what if stitches did more than closed wounds? What if they could reveal how the healing was coming along?

That’s the promise of the “smart sutures” invented by a team of researchers led by engineers from Tufts University. Starting with thread that ranged from basic cotton to sophisticated synthetic, the researchers embedded electronics, microfluidics, and nano-scale sensors to create high-tech diagnostic sutures. The threads can collect diagnostic data such as tissue temperature, pH and glucose levels, and stress and strain, and even sense if an infection is coming on.

What’s more, these super-stitches can then wirelessly send the collected data to a smartphone or computer, potentially giving health professionals a realtime glimpse inside an injury. The smart threads could be used in more than just wounds, say the researchers. They could also be embedded in organs, orthopedic implants, and perhaps even knitted or embroidered into smart fabrics for other applications.

So far, the smart threads have only been tested on rats and in vitro. The research was published yesterday in the journal Microsystems and Nanoengineering.

Diagram showing how smart threads could be embedded in skin.

Courtesy of the Nano Lab/ Tufts University

Diagram showing how smart threads could be embedded in skin.

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