Scientists have woven microscopic sensors into thread to gather diagnostic data from the tiniest of sutures.
The smart threads can sense pH, glucose levels, and temperature. They can even ferry tiny amounts of bodily fluids from one point to another for analysis by microsensor. And they can transmit data wirelessly — so they can alert doctors when a patient’s blood sugar is off or an infection is starting to form in a wound.
More traditional diagnostic materials — such as monitors and sensors stuck on the skin — can sense changes on the body’s surface, but often can’t penetrate tissue to gather information about internal problems. So a team of engineers from several institutions tossed around ideas for new materials.
One proposal stood out: Thread. It can bend, stretch, and be made as thick or as thin as scientists want.
“We generated an entire toolkit of these threads,” said Sameer Sonkusale, a professor of electrical engineering at Tufts University and a coauthor of a paper on the new material, published this week in the journal Microsystems and Nanoengineering.
The research is still in the early stages — scientists have tested the threads in Petri dishes and a mouse model but have not yet tried them in humans.
But they have high hopes that the threads can be a useful tool. They might, for instance, help diabetic patients who have chronic wounds that don’t heal well, Sonkusale noted.
“We monitored actual biomarkers of wound healing,” he said.