Smart Thread Collects Data from Sutures and Wearables
Shane Laros posted on September 24, 2016 |
Researchers develop thread that can report on patients’ overall health.
The thread collects data, such as pH and glucose levels by penetrating multiple layers of tissue and delivering the information to a wireless transmitter, which sends the diagnostics to a phone. (Image courtesy of Tufts University Nano Lab.)
The thread collects data, such as pH and glucose levels by penetrating multiple layers of tissue and delivering the information to a wireless transmitter, which sends the diagnostics to a phone. (Image courtesy of Tufts University Nano Lab.)
Though wearable technology is still very much an industry in development, researchers at Tufts University School of Engineering have taken the concept of implanted diagnostic sensors a step further by developing a ‘smart’ thread that could serve as sutures which give feedback on recovering patients.

The thread can report on a number of biological factors, including pressure, stress, strain and temperature. It also monitors glucose and pH levels to determine how a wound is healing, whether infection is emerging or whether the body's chemistry is out of balance.

The researchers used multiple types of conductive thread soaked in physical and chemical sensing compounds and connected to wireless circuitry to transmit information to a nearby smartphone.

"The ability to suture a thread-based diagnostic device intimately in a tissue or organ environment in three dimensions adds a unique feature that is not available with other flexible diagnostic platforms," said Sameer Sonkusale, corresponding author on the paper and director of the Nano Lab in the department of electrical and computer engineering at Tufts.

"We think thread-based devices could potentially be used as smart sutures for surgical implants, smart bandages to monitor wound healing, or integrated with textile or fabric as personalized health monitors and point-of-care diagnostics."

While wearable tech has long worked to monitor the wearer’s condition, from heart rate to oximetry, few developers have taken the step of actually implanting sensors in the body itself. The research is published under the title, “A toolkit of thread-based microfluidics, sensors, and electronics for 3D tissue embedding for medical diagnostics,” in the journal Microsystems & Nanoengineering. In it, the researchers note that as existing technologies are often based on two dimensional, flat surfaces, their usefulness is limited. The smart thread is able to be easily bent and shaped, allowing it a wider range of uses in and out of the human body.

Pooria Mostafalu, first author on the paper, noted the additional benefits of thread over other sensor delivery systems.

"By contrast, thread is abundant, inexpensive, thin and flexible, and can be easily manipulated into complex shapes. Additionally, analytes can be delivered directly to tissue by using thread's natural wicking properties." Mostafalu noted.

Beyond the medical applications of the smart thread, integration into wearables could allow for more detailed information gathering and interaction, as a wider range of sensitivity could help the wearer better interface with the tech, and effectively transmit the gathered information wirelessly.

For more on implantable technology, find out if brain prosthetics are on their way to market.

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