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Engineering and Clinical Experts Partner to Develop Sensing Device for Early Detection and Prevention of Pressure Ulcers

Technology plays a huge role in health care. In addition to having an impact on efficacy and quality of care, technology can offer solutions to tough problems.

One such problem is in detecting pressure ulcers. Currently, there is no widely-available method to detect early tissue injury and facilitate prevention of pressure ulcers, which affect paralyzed or movement-limited patients. Pressure ulcers are painful, debilitating, expensive to treat, and potentially life-threatening. They arise when persistent pressure to the body compromises blood flow to the skin and underlying soft tissue, leading to cell injury and death.

To help find a solution, a team of researchers from the University’s College of Science and Engineering, Medical School and School of Nursing, as well as colleagues from Fairview Health Services are working together to pilot a project that focuses on utilizing technology to facilitate health care.

“The breadth of our multidisciplinary collaborative team will ensure both the technological robustness and the clinical relevance of our product,” said Sarah Swisher, PhD, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.
 
Swisher has previously conducted research that shows pressure to the skin and underlying tissue produces changes in electrical conduction, which can be detected through the use of a “smart bandage.”

A smart bandage is a thin, flexible electronic device that sends a small electrical current through the tissue and measures its impedance, or resistance to current flow. Changes in the electrical impedance of the underlying tissue can signal development and severity of pressure ulcers. These impedance changes can be observed far in advance of any clinical skin changes or wound development.

Smart bandages may provide early warning of pressure-induced tissue injury so interventions can be initiated before pressure ulcers develop. The team will develop a prototype and print the sensors directly onto commercially available bandages to make it easier for a care team to use.

In addition to Swisher, the team includes Marie Steiner, MD, MS; Greg Beilman, MD; Gwen Fischer, MD; Massimo Griselli, MD, MS, FCCS; and Sandra Hagstrom, RN, MSN.

This study received funding from the Office of Academic Clinical Affairs BOLD Ideas Grant program which supports interdisciplinary teams seeking to tackle the “wicked problems” inhibiting the health and wellbeing of our communities.

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