Dr Ruchi Gupta, a senior lecturer in the School of Chemistry, has recently won funding from EPSRC to develop a new sensor which is able to be directly incorporated in a wound dressing. The developed sensor will be able to monitor the concentration of biomarkers at the wound-dressing interface, and transmit information on the wound condition directly to clinicians, by way of a colour change, which can be detected by the camera on a mobile phone or tablet. This will enable real-time monitoring of the condition of the wound underneath the dressing, reducing the need for frequent changes of the dressing to monitor the wound – a process which is both costly and uncomfortable for patients.

The incidence of chronic wounds (wounds which do not heal in a timely manner), such as diabetic foot ulcers and pressures ulcers, is increasing as a result of the ageing population. For example, it is estimated that by 2030, roughly 552 million people worldwide will have diabetes mellitus. Up to an  25% of these patients will develop diabetic foot ulcers in their lifetime; half of these ulcers will be infected and 20% will undergo amputation of their lower limb. The annual economic impact of chronic wounds, which includes nursing time and dressing materials, on the global economy is estimated to be roughly £20 billion by 2030. Therefore there is a clear need for the management of these wounds to be the best possible.

Wounds are often covered with a dressing to facilitate the healing process – scientists in the Physical Sciences for Health Centre have contributed towards the development of new dressing materials to enhance healing, see ‘Hope for burns victims as researchers pilot revolutionary new dressing’ -  however standard dressings do not provide any insight into the condition of the wound underneath. Consequently dressings are often changed in order to examine and assess the wound. This in turn hampers the process of normal wound healing; causes stress and pain to patients; and has an associated cost in nursing time and materials, contributing to the spiralling medical costs in wound care.

By developing a sensor which can be embedded in a smart wound dressing, the problems associated with the need to frequently change a standard dressing can be reduced, as it will be possible to monitor the status of the wound with the smart dressing in place. In order to achieve such a sensor, developments in materials chemistry and instrumentation are required, to produce a sensor which is both flexible and sensitive enough to be incorporated in a dressing. The EPSRC funding will be used to support the work of two post-doctoral research assistants, to commence work shortly, while a student in the Physical Sciences for Health CDT has already begun work on the materials chemistry aspect.

First year student Tasha Chauhan is currently undertaking a mini-project as part of the integrated MSc year of the Physical Sciences for Health programme, in which she is investigating the properties of hydrogels which will form part of the sensor system. This is one small aspect of the materials development required to bring the sensor to fruition, and a full PhD project is also planned to work alongside the post-doctoral researchers in developing methods to covalently bind antibodies to the sensor surface and photofunctionalise the material, and make the patterns and optical structures which will eventually form the sensor.

These projects will build on the existing network of the Physical Sciences for Health Centre and be carried out in collaboration with colleagues from biochemical engineering, medicine, and computer science, including Professors Liam Grover and Ann Logan, and Dr Kashif Rajpoot.