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Scientists Create ‘Smart’ Thread to Know What’s Happening Under Your Skin

Sometime soon, tech-enabled stitches and bandages could report data on wounds directly to doctors.

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BY Anna Hensel - 22 Jul 2016

Scientists are working to take "wearable" technology to a whole new level. Or, more accurately, to new depths.

A group of Tufts University-led researchers recently announced that it created a first-of-its kind "smart" thread that can be sutured into human tissues. The goal? To collect data on tissue health, as well as monitor wounds or infections, all of which can be sent to a computer or phone.

The researchers created the conductive threads by dipping cotton threads into conductive ink made up of a variety of compounds that act as physical and chemical sensors. These sensors can measure physical properties of the tissue (such as changes in temperature and strain), as well as chemical properties of the tissue (such as changes in pH and glucose). The compounds also allow the threads to connect to a wireless electronic circuit, which can then send the information collected to a computer.

"With this thread, we kind of fashioned an entire diagnostic platform," says Pooria Mostafalu, one of the authors on the paper and a postdoctoral research fellow with the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology.

Smart threads could be used by surgeons to monitor how a wound is healing after surgery, or to be implanted with other devices such as pacemakers.

More testing needs to be done before smart threads become a reality--so far, the group of researchers have only tested the concept by suturing smart threads into rat tissue. More testing needs to be done over a span of months to see if the rats develop any side effects as a result of the thread, before human clinical trials--the first step necessary in the process to get smart threads on the market--can begin.

There may be more smart devices that can fit inside the human body on the way--a piece earlier this year by Scientific American identified the development of nano-sized sensors--which the Tufts researchers integrated into their smart thread--as one of the top 10 emerging technologies of 2016.


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