Nanosensors have tremendous potential in diagnostic medicine but their use to date has been limited. However, researchers at Tufts University have developed a new ‘smart thread’ containing nanosensors and microfluidics that can be sutured into tissues to gather diagnostic data. The smart threads are connected to wireless circuits and could be used to transmit valuable data from patients in real-time.
The nanosensors have been incorporated into a range of materials including synthetic fibers and cotton. They have been tested in vitro as well as being sutured into rat tissue in vivo. The researchers used the smart threads to collect a range of data including pH and glucose levels, as well as data on temperature, stress, pressure, and strain. This information could give physicians a valuable insight into the progress of wound healing, provide real-time information on infections, or be used to monitor homeostasis. The signals from the smart threads can be read via a paired smartphone, tablet or computer.
Researchers were able to use the threads to create a three-dimensional platform that could be used around highly complex structures such as implants and organs, or sutured directly into wounds during surgery. Previous attempts to use nanosensors have largely been limited to two-dimensional substrates that could only be used on flat tissue surfaces such as the skin.
The threads were created by immersing them in compounds that are capable of sensing their physical environment and the presence of a variety of chemicals. By connecting the threads to wireless circuitry they are able to transmit data in real-time.
Lead author of the paper – A toolkit of thread-based microfluidics, sensors, and electronics for 3D tissue embedding for medical diagnostics – Pooria Mostafalu, Ph.D., says “Thread is abundant, inexpensive, thin and flexible, and can be easily manipulated into complex shapes.” She went on to explain that the material also has a number of other important properties, for example, “Analytes can be delivered directly to tissue by using thread’s natural wicking properties.”
The tests on animals have been positive, although the researchers have said further research is needed to assess long-term biocompatibility.
The researchers believe the new material could be used in next-generation implantable devices, new wearable technology, smart bandages that can monitor the progress of wound healing, and for a wide range of health monitors and diagnostic devices.