Engineers have devised a prototype that could quickly administer treatment to wounds caused by chronic diseases or injuries sustained during combat.

A team comprised of researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, MIT, and Harvard Medical School created a ‘smart bandage’ built with electrically conductive fibers coated in a specialized gel.

The bandage can be individually loaded with an array of medications including infection-fighting antibiotics, tissue regenerating growth factors, and painkillers.

Administration of the medication occurs via a smartphone or similar wireless device. It activates a microcontroller on the bandage no larger than a postage stamp, which transmits small amounts of voltage through a chosen fiber to heat up the component and the hydrogel, releasing the medication.

"This is the first bandage that is capable of dose-dependent drug release,” said Ali Tamayol, co-author of this study and assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering at the University of Nebraska, in a statement. "You can release multiple drugs with different release profiles. That's a big advantage in comparison with other systems. What we did here was come up with a strategy for building a bandage from the bottom up.

The scientists conducted a series of experiments to evaluate their device’s applications.

First, they applied their proprietary bandage loaded with growth factor to wounded mice. The results showed the team’s version was able to regrow three times as much of the blood-rich tissue critical to the healing process when compared to a dry bandage.

Next, another test indicated the antibiotic-loaded version of their bandage could effectively eliminate infection-causing bacteria.

Both investigations highlighted that the heat needed to release these medications did not affect their potency.

Initial applications for this bandage would include treating chronic skin wounds caused by diabetes, but uses on the battlefield could be another viable avenue to explore.

"Soldiers on the battlefield may be suffering from a number of different injuries or infections," continued Tamayol. "They might be dealing with a number of different pathogens. Imagine that you have a variable patch that has antidotes or drugs targeted toward specific hazards in the environment."

Tamayol and his colleagues will continue working on the bandage by trying to incorporate thread-based sensors for measuring glucose, pH, and other health-related indicators of skin tissue. A successful integration of this capability would enable a feature that could autonomously deliver proper treatments.

More animal and human tests are required to verify the bandage’s efficacy before hitting the market even though most of the technology’s components are already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Findings from this experiment were published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.