When we talk about progress we usually think of technology, and it is not wrong. However, it is not the most accurate either. On the one hand, because there are many other disciplines whose impact has been crucial on civilization. On the other, because it is difficult to separate the technology from all its applications. Whether it is to improve communications, corporate governance or health, technology is a modifier that, by itself, means little. Third and last, it should be remembered that “technology” is not only electronic. Technology is something that goes from the first lithic tools to the system by which we classify books in libraries. Within this vast range, almost anything fits, however banal it may be. For example: a band-aid.
The plasters, or sanitary adhesive strips, are a really simple technology that, however, was not patented until 1882, the year in which the German Paul Beiersdorf decided to strike gold. However, the idea of attaching materials to the skin to protect us was a much older concept. The jump was not that revolutionary and its main value was in its ease of use. However, we may now be on the verge of a new change in this primitive technology. A leap from which perhaps the first cybernetic plasters were born, capable of analyzing the particularities of the wound and stimulating the regeneration of damaged tissue. Or, at least, that’s what Wei Gao and his CALTECH team promise.
Have we lost the north? It may be so. What more can we ask of a band-aid? Do we need her to be cybernetic? What do we intend with it? Share data of our healing through social networks? The distrust is more than reasonable because, although it may sound parodic, there are relatively similar proposals. However, in this case there are real advantages. Virtues that can help us all, but especially people with problems healing their wounds. In summary, the invention that CALTECH has announced consists of a wireless adhesive strip that allows the state of the wound to be monitored and its regeneration to be stimulated with light electric shocks.
Most people don’t even use regular Band-Aids when making a wound. Wait for them to heal and, meanwhile, try not to rub too much. The fact is that we cannot only think of the majority, but of people like those who suffer from diabetes, skin ulcers or chronic infections. In short, patients with difficult-to-heal lesions. In fact, this device has been tested in diabetic mice for precisely that reason. And, although it still has to be tested in humans, we can be relatively optimistic, since it is not like a drug whose biochemistry can be highly dependent on the species to which it is administered.
It is estimated that the price of the plasters will be around 50 dollars, but not everything would be fungible. The system would consist of two parts. On the one hand, a reusable portion and, on the other, a disposable sensor patch. Even so, the price may seem excessive, but oddly enough, it is designed to reduce the financial burden on patients. The argument is simple: it may be more expensive than other plasters, but it not only fulfills the function of a plaster, it allows treating wounds that could otherwise become complicated and end up increasing the healthcare cost of these patients. In fact, these ulcerative lesions already represent a not inconsiderable expense in our healthcare systems.
If we put it in figures, the researchers emphasize that there are more than 6.7 million Americans affected by this type of wounds that do not heal, which represents a medical expense of more than 25,000 million dollars. Whether it is due to diabetic ulcers, burns, surgical complications, infections or other types of complicated wounds. Another advantage that goes beyond the economic benefits is that this plaster is easy to apply and does not pose a problem for patients as it does with the main current alternatives to treat these ulcers. If this plaster does what it promises, we will be able to reduce the most invasive interventions with all the benefits that this entails for patients.
There are subtle technological advances, like this one. It is not based on revolutionary discoveries or impossible designs. It’s just an idea, two concepts that come together and offer something more than when they were apart. Something more than a Band-Aid, and certainly more than an electrode. And, of course, they’re not here to replace the classic band-aids, they’re another tool that most of us may never get to use.
DON’T GET IT:
- Although it is quite possible that these plasters will prove useful in humans, it may also be that they will not find their place in the market. So we can’t launch bells on the fly, because when a product like this is developed there are many things that can be truncated.
- Gao, W. et al. “A stretchable wireless wearable bioelectronic system for multiplexed monitoring and combination treatment of infected chronic wounds”. Science Advances (March, 2023)