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Quick-release medical tape minimizes neonatal skin injury

Posted November 3, 2012

Quick-release medical tape (Credit: Karp Lab/Brigham and Women’s Hospital)

Commercial medical tapes on the market today are great at keeping medical devices attached to the skin, but often can do damage—such as skin-tissue tearing—once it’s time to remove them. A research team from HMS and Brigham and Women’s Hospital has invented a quick-release tape that has the strong adhesion properties of commercial medical tape, but without the “ouch factor” upon removal.

The team, led by Jeffrey Karp, HMS associate professor of medicine in the Division of Biomedical Engineering at Brigham and Women’s and senior study author in collaboration with The Institute for Pediatric Innovation, defined the need and requirements for a new neonatal adhesive based on national surveys of neonatal clinicians.

The study detailing the tape design was published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Oct. 29. The research was conducted in collaboration with Robert Langer, HMS senior lecturer on surgery and the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT.

The tape achieves strong adhesion when securing medical devices to skin, but can also peel off safely and easily, utilizing a three-layer design approach that sets a new paradigm for quick-release medical tapes.

“Current adhesive tapes that contain backing and adhesive layers are tailored to fracture at the adhesive-skin interface. With adults the adhesive fails, leaving small remnants of adhesive on the skin, while with fragile neonate skin, the fracture is more likely to occur in the skin, causing significant damage,” said Karp. “Our approach transitions the fracture zone away from the skin to the adhesive-backing interface, thus completely preventing any harm during removal.”

The approach incorporates an anisotropic adhesive interface between the backing and adhesive layers. The anisotropic properties of this middle layer mean that it has different physical properties depending on direction; wood, for example, is stronger along the grain than across it.

The researchers employed laser etching and a release liner to create the anisotropic interface, resulting in a medical tape with high shear strength (for strong adhesion) and low peel force (for safe, quick removal). Once the backing is peeled off, any remaining adhesive left on the skin can safely be rolled off with a finger using a “push and roll” technique.

“This is one of the biggest problems faced in the neonate units, where the patients are helpless and repeatedly wrapped in medical tapes designed for adult skin,” said Bryan Laulicht, of the Division of Biomedical Engineering at Brigham and Women’s and lead study author.

There are more than 1.5 million injuries each year in the U.S. caused by medical tape removal. Such injuries in babies and the elderly—populations with fragile skin—can range from skin irritation to permanent scarring.

Source: Harvard Medical School

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