Nanocellulose wound dressings that can reveal infection

April 18, 2023

(Nanowerk News) Nanocellulose wound dressings that can reveal early signs of infection without interfering with the healing process have been developed by researchers at the University of Linköping, Sweden. Their study, published in Today’s Material Bio (“Nanocellulose composite wound dressing for real-time monitoring of wound pH”), is one step further towards treating a new type of wound.

Skin is the largest organ of the human body. Wounds interfere with the normal functioning of the skin and take a long time to heal, are very painful for the patient and, in the worst case scenario, can lead to death if not treated properly. In addition, non-healing wounds pose a huge burden to society, representing around half of all outpatient care costs. Nanocellulose wound dressings that can reveal early signs of infection through discoloration. (Image: Olov Planthaber)

In traditional wound care, the dressing is changed regularly, approximately every two days. To check if the wound is infected, the treatment staff should remove the bandage and perform an assessment based on appearance and tests. It is a painful procedure that interferes with wound healing as the scab bursts repeatedly. The risk of infection also increases any time the wound is open.

Researchers at Linköping University, in collaboration with colleagues from Örebro and Luleå Universities, have now developed a wound dressing made of nanocellulose which can reveal early signs of infection without interfering with the healing process.

“Being able to see firsthand whether a wound has become infected, without having to remove the dressing, opens up a new type of wound care that can result in more efficient treatment and improve the lives of patients with difficult-to-heal wounds. It can also reduce the unnecessary use of antibiotics,” said Daniel Aili, professor in the Division of Biophysics and Bioengineering at Linköping University.

The pads are made of tightly mesh nanocellulose, preventing bacteria and other microbes from entering. At the same time, the material allows gases and liquids to pass through, something that is important for wound healing. The idea is that once applied, the dressing will remain in place throughout the entire healing process. If the wound is infected, the dressing will show discoloration.

An uninfected wound has a pH value of around 5.5. When an infection occurs, the wound becomes more alkaline and may have a pH value of 8, or even higher. This is because the bacteria in the wound change their environment to match their optimal growth environment. A high pH value in a wound can be detected long before the presence of pus, pain or redness, which are the most common signs of infection.

In order for wound dressings to exhibit high pH values, researchers used bromtimol blue, BTB, a dye that changes color from yellow to blue when the pH value exceeds 7. For BTB to be used in dressings without compromise, it is loaded onto a silica material with pores only the size of a few nanometers. The silica material can then be combined with the dressing material without compromising the nanocellulose. The result is a wound dressing that turns blue when an infection occurs.

Wound infections are often treated with antibiotics that spread throughout the body. But if infection is detected at an early stage, local wound care may be sufficient. This is why Daniel Aili and his colleagues at Örebro University have also developed an anti-microbial agent based on so-called lipopeptides that kills all types of bacteria.

“The use of antibiotics makes infection even more problematic, as multi-resistant bacteria become more common. If we can combine antimicrobial substances with pads, we minimize the risk of infection and reduce the overuse of antibiotics,” said Daniel Aili.

Daniel Aili says that the new wound dressings and anti-microbial agents are part of the development of a new type of outpatient wound care. But because all products to be used in medical care settings must pass rigorous and expensive testing, he says it could be five to ten years before they become available there.

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