A new 'smart' medical dressing uses nanotechnology to both detect and treat infection in wounds.
The dressing, developed in a €4.5 million EC-funded project, works by releasing antibiotics from nanocapsules triggered by the presence of disease-causing pathogenic bacteria.
It can target treatment before the infection takes hold. Antibiotics are only released when needed, which reduces the risk of the evolution of new antibiotic-resistant super-bugs such as MRSA.
The dressing will also change colour when the antibiotic is released, warning doctors that there is infection in the wound.
This is particularly important in treating burns patients, where infections can lead to toxic shock syndrome, a potentially fatal condition.
"The dressing is only triggered by disease-causing bacteria, which produce toxins that break open capsules containing the antibiotics and dye," says project leader Dr Toby Jenkins of the University of Bath.
"This means that antibiotics are only released when needed, which reduces the risk of the evolution of new antibiotic-resistant super-bugs such as MRSA."
The dressing could be widely available within a few years.
"Many people don’t realise that a burn from a cup of tea can be deadly if it becomes infected," said Dr Amber Young, a paediatric burn specialist at the South West UK Paediatric Burn Centre.
"The colour change acts as an early warning system that infection is present, meaning we can treat it much faster, reducing the trauma to the child and cutting the time they have to spend in hospital.”
The dressing could also be used for other types of wound, such as ulcers or by the military on the battlefield.