Infections in surgical wounds make up an estimated two per cent of all hospital expenses in Denmark.
This corresponds to expenses of more than EUR 135 million (DKK 1 billion) per year. A new patch that automatically warns of infection may be one of several ways to reduce costs.
A special sensor in the patient’s dressings notifies healthcare professionals if a wound is infected. This way, doctors and at-home carers can keep an eye on the condition of the wound.
You avoid having to open the dressings to check the wound, thereby exposing the patient to more bacteria. The development of multiresistant bacteria will also be reduced, as it provides new opportunities for providing the right antibiotic treatment.
Imagine that healthcare professionals could receive digital data from the sensor, and that these data could provide information on general patterns for how and when infections in wounds occur and develop.
This is the scenario for the ‘lab as a thing’ technology which is being developed by researchers from DTU. There is therefore prospects of better wound treatment, significantly shorter hospital stays, reductions in number of patients and resources, and data which can form the basis for new forms of treatment.
Faster diagnosis and early treatment
“We want this technology to benefit the general public. We want it to have an impact and make a difference for the individual,” says Winnie Edith Svendsen, Associate Professor at DTU Nanotech, who has just received funding from the Proof of Concept programme for a project on intelligent wound diagnosis.
“It’s interesting to see how new technologies affect society and the way we live—for instance when tiny laboratories are build into the things we surround ourselves with and are then connected to the internet and provide intelligent feedback to the user. We call this “lab as a thing”. Here you have a patch which can diagnose and notify healthcare professionals automatically, so patients don’t have to go to the hospital to get information.”
Making laboratory tests to validate a diagnosis is currently a rather expensive and slow process, and this is one of the problems that the patch can solve. Until a diagnosis is made, patients are treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics, which may contribute to the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
“It’s a huge problem,” says Dan Høgdall, Doctor at Herlev Hospital.
“It’s important to find out which type of bacteria is causing the infection in the individual patient, so you can treat it with the right antibiotics. In recent years, we have unfortunately seen a rise in resistant bacteria in society, so it’s important to target the antibiotic treatment as early as possible. This may lead to more pleasant and shorter hospital stays. And a hospital bed costs thousands of kroner a day.”
The intelligent patch will initially be tested in relation to the most relevant bacteria in wounds, for example staphylococcal infections. Infection with Staphylococcus bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus) is one of the most common reasons for infected wounds.
The goal is for the intelligent patch to support early diagnosis and proper treatment in a wide range of clinical situations—from surgical wounds in hospitals to complex chronic wounds at the patient’s home.
Long road to commercial business
Dianova, one of DTU’s affiliated companies, sees great potential in intelligent patches.
“We would like to see more technology and knowledge make a difference in society,” says CEO Marie-Louise Little, who has worked with wound care since 2002.
“Combining sensor technology and our vast knowledge of wounds and bacteria in a digital platform will be able to help a lot of people. Chronic wounds are difficult and very costly due to needing comprehensive care and treatment. Acute wounds occur after a clinical operation, for instance. They are cleaner, and if there’s bacterial growth in it, it’s measurable. But there’s a major, unresolved issue with chronic wounds which sensors can help solve. And we have already seen that the concept works. Unfortunately, it may be a couple of years before the technology can be used in home care or at hospitals. There are many rules and regulations to be taken into account in addition to various clinical tests which must demonstrate that the system works. It will probably be five years before we will have intelligent patches as part of our wound care.”
“In order to make a chip into a biosensor, its surface chemistry has to target the biomarkers of the disease we wish to monitor. We’re developing a technical digital platform, so we can use the same chip but only alter the surface when we wish to look at the biomarkers of a different disease,” says Professor Jan Madsen from DTU Compute.
This paves the way for speeding up the development of “lab as a thing” and for targeting it to a range of different diagnoses, so it can soon become part of everyday technologies.
The prototype of the intelligent patch will be ready this summer, after which the technology will be handed over to the health sector.