Scientists have developed a new kind of color-changing dressing to better treat wound infection.

When it comes to ongoing wound care, doctors and patients alike have to continually worry about the risk of infection. According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, over 6 percent of patients with diabetic foot ulcers will eventually be hospitalized due to any number of infections. Though there are common symptoms to many of these infections – like pain, aching muscles and a fever – Right Diagnosis explained that these ailments are hard to detect because oftentimes the accompanying signs are far too vague. Now, as Medical Daily reported, doctors in the U.K. could soon be taking bold steps to better identify and treat infections with a novel new approach: color-changing dressings.

Bright and shiny technology

These futuristic dressings are the work of a group of researchers from England’s University of Bath, University of Bristol and the Healing Foundation Children’s Burns Research Center. Already in the prototype stage, the dressings work by using smart technology to detect the onset of an infection and then change color accordingly. Lead researcher Toby Jenkins said that the specific mechanism involves the use of fluorescent dye from nanocapsules, which react to certain key toxins released from bacteria inside a wound. Jenkins explained that the nanocapsules are designed to only break apart when they detect harmful bacterial toxin, meaning they won’t react to the ordinary and harmless strains that live on everyone’s skin.

And because doctors won’t have to remove the dressing to treat the infection, Jenkins said that treatment and diagnosis can begin all that much faster. Additionally, the team is hoping the dressings can also reduce instances of antibiotic resistance. Many hospital patients are treated with antibiotics as a preemptive measure, which can actually cause infections to develop a resistance from their onset. By having a tool like this to help catch infections in their earliest stages, many physicians won’t have to give their patients needless and potentially harmful antibiotics.

At the same time this research team is working on dressings, a second team from Brighton’s Department of Molecular and Medical Microbiology, is delving further into the origins and beginnings of infections. Jones said he believes that they can find just how infections begin and their greater effect on the wound healing process. In turn, that could lead to new advancements and technology beyond just the color-changing dressings.

If research continues the way it has, the team could begin wide-scale production of these dressings by early 2020.

Current protocols

As mentioned above, the system for diagnosing an infection isn’t always the most effective. For instance, according to the European Wound Management Association, pus is often seen as the major indicator for an infection. However, the EWMA goes on to explain that it can sometimes take pus five to 10 days to begin discharging from a wound. In addition to the signs and symptoms like the aforementioned pain and fevers, physicians are also on the look-out for developments like an increase in skin temperature around the wound site, serous exudation and swelling that is, per the doctor’s somewhat arbitrary guidelines, excessive in nature.

Doctors aren’t always quick to conclude that an infection is at hand. Many will engage in further investigation – like exploring the patient’s medical records and susceptibility – before finally coming to the conclusion of an infection. That’s because, as the EWMA pointed out, there can be other happenings that lead to infection-like symptoms. For instance, an improperly sutured leg wound may develop tenderness or exude pus, even without the presence of an infection.

Advanced Tissue is the nation’s leader in specialized wound care supplies, delivering to both patients and clinicians.