The images were seared in our minds after Australia’s 2019 summer of bushfire devastation: lives and homes lost, haunting pictures of suffering animals. But Centre for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP) researchers have another vision. They see their work delivering more effective care for animals, whether they are cattle scorched by flames, dogs hit by cars or koalas recovering from surgery.
And, with better care comes better healing and improved outcomes. CNBP next generation smart bandages could, for example, make remote monitoring of stock injured by fire a reality, reducing infection and saving lives.
The fundamentals of wound care — for people and animals — have changed little in over a century. Clean, apply dressing and check under the bandage for healing or infection. But ‘smart’ bandage technology being developed by a talented multidisciplinary team is adding to our understanding of how wounds heal in humans. And with that knowledge comes the potential to apply it literally in the field: to grazing livestock, to pets and even native animals.
‘Wounds are highly heterogenous and the way each individual responds and recovers is vastly different,’ explains Dr Christina Bursill, the CNBP’s Chief Investigator in vascular health. ‘It’s important to gather more data on wounds, which we are doing, but I think the future will be non-invasive monitoring of the progress of wound healing.’
Non-invasive monitoring relies on getting information without having to peek beneath the dressing. Smart bandages blend complex, innovative technologies currently in development at CNBP. Comprised of silk mesh turbo-charged with nanodiamonds to detect wound temperature, as well as pH sensors, there’s even a ‘window’ to provide a view of new blood vessels forming that are important for healing. The team hopes these bandages will provide essential data about a wound’s progress — numbers to provide ‘objective healing’.
‘It’s a precision approach to care,’ notes Dr Christina Bursill. ‘Smart bandages are a more advanced way to actually track wound healing success. It’s never been done before. And with that kind of data, you’ll be able to know if you should change a dressing earlier or if you could just leave it for longer, which could be beneficial as well.’
‘Wounds are highly heterogenous and the way each individual responds and recovers is vastly different. It’s important to gather more data on wounds, which we are doing, but I think the future will be non-invasive monitoring of the progress of wound healing.’
If it sounds like a revolution, Dr Bursill thinks it is. The multi-billion-dollar Australian livestock industry, for example, is watching with interest in the wake of the 2019 season’s devastating bushfires. Animals with burns are often euthanised because ongoing monitoring is not economically viable and the prospect of infection threatens the animals’ welfare. But smart bandages will help monitor the progress of healing, making it feasible to humanely spare increased numbers of animals and, in particular, valuable breeding stock.
Smart bandages could promote more effective — and cost-effective — healing after animal management surgery including castration and mulesing, which is the removal of strips of skin from a sheep’s buttocks to prevent blowfly strike. Although it’s being phased out in Australia, mulesing is still performed on 70% of merino wool-producing sheep.
In a country where stock roam across thousands of kilometres, the technology will enable hands-off healthcare monitoring that previously would have been impossible.
A vet in the city could, potentially ‘check under the bandage’ of a prized thoroughbred horse hundreds of kilometres away, and the welfare of injured wildlife could be tracked remotely.
And, of course, there’s that staple of weekend news bulletins: cute stories about vets in zoos managing wounds in large animals with claws, teeth or delicate biology. Smart bandage technology, which Bursill says could be available in 5 years, would mean a tiger’s healing progress could be checked safely on a screen. It might not make for great television, but animals and vets alike will be happier for it.