22 January 2016
Colour-changing burns dressing will help fight against antibiotic resistance
A 'smart' medical dressing developed by scientists at the
University of Bath that changes colour when it detects infection
will improve treatments for burns patients and help combat the
global problem of antibiotic resistance by reducing the unnecessary
use of antibiotics.
Children with burn wounds are particularly susceptible to
bacterial infections because of their immature immune systems. Such
infections can slow wound healing, leading to longer hospital stays
as well as increased risk of permanent scarring. In severe cases,
burn infection can lead to sepsis, which can kill.
It is currently extremely difficult for doctors to diagnose
infections quickly and at the patient's bedside. Existing methods
take up to 48 hours and require removing the wound dressing which
is painful and distressing for the patient and may result in slower
healing and potentially life-long scarring. Due to this time delay,
when a child with a burn shows symptoms of a possible infection,
the clinician often has to treat them with antibiotics as a
precaution before their infection is confirmed.
However, treatment with antibiotics when there is no infection
can lead to bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics. Antibiotic
resistance has been identified by world leaders as one of the
biggest health threats we face today.
Scientists at the University of Bath, in collaboration with the
Healing Foundation Children's Burns Research Centre, based at the
Bristol Children's Hospital, and the University of Brighton have
developed a prototype
dressing that will change colour as soon as the wound is
This will enable doctors to quickly treat only those patients
with an infection, without giving unnecessary antibiotics to
patients who may simply have symptoms due to a cold.
Dr Toby Jenkins, Reader in Biophysical Chemistry at Bath
leading the project, explained: "Our medical dressing works by
releasing fluorescent dye from nanocapsules triggered by the toxins
secreted by disease-causing bacteria within the wound.
"The nanocapsules mimic skin cells in that they only break open
when toxic bacteria are present; they aren't affected by the
harmless bacteria that normally live on healthy skin.
"Using this dressing will allow clinicians to quickly identify
infections without removing it, meaning that patients can be
diagnosed and treated faster. It could really help to save
The team has been awarded almost £1 million by the Medical
Research Council, through the Biomedical Catalyst funding stream,
to test the responsiveness of the prototype dressing to samples
taken from the wounds of burns victims.
Dr Amber Young is the Clinical Lead for the
Healing Foundation Children's Burns Research Centre at Bristol
Children's Hospital. She will be taking wound swabs and blister
fluid from young burns patients and linking these to patients'
symptoms for Dr Jenkins to test how well the new dressing detects
infection in samples from real patients.
She said: "Children are at particular risk of serious infection
from even a small burn. However, with current methods clinicians
can't tell whether a sick child might have a raised temperature due
to a serious bacterial burn wound infection, or just from a simple
cough or cold.
"Being able to detect infection quickly and accurately with this
wound dressing will make a real difference to the lives of
thousands of young children by allowing doctors to provide the
right care at the right time, and also, importantly, reduce the
global threat of antibiotic resistance."
Dr Brian Jones, Reader in Molecular and Medical Microbiology
from the University of Brighton, will be coordinating work to
understand and optimise how the dressing responds to problematic
bacteria in wounds, and also to collect samples from adult patients
at Queen Victoria
Hospital in West Sussex.
Dr Jones added: "This new dressing technology will not only help
clinicians provide the best possible treatment for patients with
burns, but could also tell us a lot about how wound infections
begin and how they affect the normal healing process. This could in
turn lead to even further advances in treating these
Once the dressing has been proven to effectively detect
infection in swab samples from patients, the team plans to work
with healthcare company Hartmann to develop the dressing for use in
hospitals in around four years.
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