An MIT-Developed Bandage Can Sense Temperature Changes and Deliver Medicine

The water-based bandage stretches, lights up, and releases medicine into the skin.

Stretch bandage photo provided to Boston Magazine by Melanie Gonick/MIT

Stretch bandage photo provided to Boston Magazine by Melanie Gonick/MIT

MIT engineers have developed a product they’re calling “the Band-Aid of the future.”

The stretchy gel bandage stores tiny drug reservoirs in its casing. Medicine is released as a response to changes in skin temperature, lighting up when supply is running low.

The invention comes from Xuanhe Zhao, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. Officially dubbed a “smart wound dressing,” Zhao’s technology is designed to stretch along bendable areas of the body, like knees and elbows, and stay put while the electronic components operate. The bandage is filled with tiny pathways, so that drugs can flow through its gel-like material, providing relief for burns and other minor skin conditions.

The bandage’s main ingredient is a water-based hydrogel that acts as an extra-strong superglue, even more powerful than the natural adhesive mussels and barnacles use to glom onto ships. Zhao’s team experimented with the substance by embedding wires, LED lights, and sensors into the hydrogel.

According to a statement from MIT, the technology isn’t limited to wound care. Zhao says the gel can be used within the body as a shield-like casing for various probes and sensors. “If you want to put electronics in close contact with the human body for applications such as health care monitoring and drug delivery, it is highly desirable to make the electronic devices soft and stretchable to fit the environment of the human body,” he said. “That’s the motivation for stretchable hydrogel electronics.”

One day in the future, Zhao believes the technology could also be useful to human brains. “The brain is [like] a bowl of Jell-O,” he said in the statement. “We are proposing to use [this] as an ideal material for neural devices, because the hydrogel can be designed to possess similar mechanical and physiological properties as the brain.”