Saving lives with a smart burns dressing

Our researchers have created a revolutionary burns dressing, allowing doctors, nurses and paramedics to detect infection without removing the dressing.

It’s a translucent square measuring about two inches across. It’s got the thickness of a blister plaster and in the light of day, there’s not much that makes it look anything but ordinary. But when you place the plaster under a UV light, the little square starts to glow, revealing there’s something special about it.

It’s a new ‘smart’ wound dressing developed here at Bath that has the potential to revolutionise the way difficult burn wounds are being treated.

I’ve witnessed first-hand the often quite shocking impact of burn injuries on children. As a parent of young children myself, this has strongly motivated me to translate our research in the lab into a dressing that can be used in the clinic to make a real difference to people’s lives.

Professor Toby Jenkins, lead of the research team behind the dressing.

Every day, 45 children on average in the UK are taken to A&E departments to be treated for scalds caused by hot drinks, according to the Child Accident Prevention Trust. Burn wounds can become easily infected, and for small children, these infections can be life-threatening.

Our researchers have come up with a solution. A dressing for burns that is covered in tiny nanocapsules just a millionth of a millimetre in size. The prototype dressing monitors burns and releases fluorescent dye if it detects toxic bacteria. The dye alerts doctors to the infection, which helps them make informed decisions at the bedside about prescribing antibiotics.

It means doctors don’t need to remove bandages to check for infection, avoiding further pain, potential scarring and unnecessary antibiotic treatment which could cause problems in immature immune systems.

We’ve worked closely with burns experts at the Bristol Children’s Hospital to develop the prototype dressing. The next step will be to start testing the dressing in real clinical conditions.

Making a difference to the lives of thousands of people is what drives us to keep pushing the boundaries of scientific research after 50 years – and for the next 50 too.

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