Faculty of Science

Revolutionary burns dressing could save young lives

The dressing glows under UV light when it detects an infection (left), but isn't affected by the bacteria normally found on healthy skin (right).Dr Toby Jenkins and his group have developed a prototype medical dressing that detects burn wound infections and could potentially save the lives of children with serious burns.

Challenge

A major challenge for clinicians working with child patients is bacterial infection at the site of first and second degree burns.

Infection can lead to greater pain, increased scarring, longer hospital stays and even sudden death. The big problem for clinicians is the fast diagnosis of infection. Clinicians currently have to remove the dressing to test for infection, which may result in slower healing and potentially life-long scarring, and is very distressing for the child.

Solution

Jenkins has now developed a prototype dressing that releases dye from nanocapsules triggered by the presence of disease-causing pathogenic bacteria. The dye fluoresces under ultraviolet (UV) light, alerting healthcare professionals that the wound is infected. The nanocapsules mimic skin cells in that they only break open when toxic bacteria are present, not responding to the harmless bacteria that normally live on healthy skin.

Benefits and outcomes

As a result of the project, a clinical research team is being assembled at Frenchay Hospital to collaborate with the University of Bath team to help produce dressing prototypes and, ultimately, conduct randomised, controlled clinical trials in hospitals. 

These developments involve close collaboration with industry partners, including Mölnlycke Healthcare who develop appropriate dressings. Responsive, antimicrobial dressings could revolutionise the diagnosis and treatment of scalds in thousands of children in the UK annually and, ultimately, millions worldwide.

REF submission

This research was part of our REF 2014 submission for Chemistry.