'Smart bandages' could provide early infection warning

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Clinical trials of a smart bandage that changes colour when it detects infections are set to begin, using samples from burns patients at four UK hospitals.

The glowing dressings will provide an early warning that infection is developing in patients - allowing for better and earlier treatment.

Scientists at the University of Bath, who developed the technology, say the bandages will also prevent unnecessary testing when an infection is not present.

Currently, diagnosis methods take up to 48 hours and require removing wound dressings, a painful process which can slow healing and cause scarring.  

Swabs and dressings will be taken from hundreds of patients at Southmead Hospital in Bristol, Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital and Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead.

In the trial, funded by the Medical Research Council, tests will establish how sensitive the bandages are to infections and how they react to those they are designed to detect.

Professor Toby Jenkins, who is leading the study, said: "We believe our bandages have great potential to improve outcomes for patients, reduce unnecessary use of antibiotics and save the NHS money.

"These trials are an exciting and essential step towards getting the bandages into hospitals to help treat people, allowing us to find out exactly how well they work using real samples from patients.

"We hope as many people as possible agree to take part in the trial, which is completely non-invasive."

The nature of burns wounds means the signs and symptoms of infections are common but true infection is rare.

Precautionary courses of antibiotics are often prescribed in cases of suspected infection.

Scientists say the colour-changing bandages will reduce this need, helping to tackle the global problem of bacteria developing antibiotic resistance.

Dr Amber Young, consultant paediatric anaesthetist at Bristol Royal Hospital for Children's hospital and the lead clinician on the trial, said: "Using patients' samples to test the dressing's ability to detect infection will take us closer to the use of the dressing in patients.

"Diagnosing wound infection at the bedside in patients with burns will allow targeted treatment of those with true infection; allowing earlier healing and reduced scarring as well as preventing overuse of antibiotics and unnecessary dressing removal in those patients with no infection. This will benefit both patients and the NHS."

If the trials demonstrate that the bandages are effective then manufacturing could begin as early as next year.