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Behind the picture: The ‘smart’ dressing aiming to tackle antimicrobial resistance

by Guest Author on 16 Nov 2015

Doctors could soon be getting the green light to prescribe antibiotics with a light-up dressing that indicates whether burns are infected or not. If successful, use of the dressing should reduce unnecessary prescribing of antibiotics and therefore antibiotic resistance, and make life a little easier for patients.

The dressing responding to the presence of bacterial toxins

The dressing responding to the presence of bacterial toxins (Image: University of Bath)


It has the air of a futuristic Star Trek-style medical device – a dressing which can tell you if a wound is infected. But rather than being confined to television screens, this bandage could be in hospitals in a few short years.

And as well as its glow-in-the-dark appeal, the dressing has a much more serious aim – to reduce the unnecessary prescribing of antibiotics to burns patients who don’t actually need them.

At the moment it can take up to two days to tell if a patient who is showing symptoms of infection actually has an infected burn. This means that doctors often end up prescribing antibiotics as a precaution – not good at a time when we should be reducing the overall use of antibiotics, particularly in people who do not have an infection.

Current methods to diagnose infection also require dressings to be removed, which can mean extra pain for patients as well of the chance of slower healing and more severe scarring.

The dressing contains nanocapsules full of fluorescent dye. When these come into contact with toxins released by disease-causing bacteria in a wound, they break open and release the dye, creating a handy indicator on the patient’s skin within hours. If only harmless skin-dwelling bacteria are present, the nanocapsules stay intact.

The dressing has been developed by a team of researchers led by the University of Bath and recently received a £1-million award from the MRC via the Biomedical Catalyst to test how good it is at detecting infection in wound swabs and blister fluid from patients. The award will also fund the development of prototype dressings to be tested on patients.

Katherine Nightingale

Find out more about our efforts to tackle antimicrobial resistance.

Find out more about the dressing at www.smartwound.co.uk


Prototype Development of the Intelligent Hydrogel Wound Dressing and Its Efficacy in the Detection of Model Pathogenic Wound Biofilms ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces (2015) doi: 10.1021/acsami.5b07372


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