Electronic Band-Aid shapes as alternative to antibiotics

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The researchers are particularly enthusiastic about their approach as they say it can provide an alternative to antibiotics(Credit: Shutterstock)

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Bandages are important for stopping germs from entering a wound and making things worse, but could they play a more active role in making things better? New research has brought the idea of wound-healing dressings closer to reality by establishing a method of electrical stimulation that kills off the majority of multi-drug resistant bacterium commonly found in difficult-to-treat infections.

Electrical stimulation has long been explored as a means of speeding up the healing process, but exactly how it works hasn't always been so clear. However, a study earlier this year suggested it does so by triggering a process called angiogenesis, which causes new blood vessels to form and boosts blood flow to the affected area.

In the view of Washington State University researchers, at least part of the answer lies in the results of the electrochemical reaction that takes place as the current is applied. The team found that during this process hydrogen peroxide forms at the electrode surface, which as it turns out, works effectively as a disinfectant.

The team applied the electric current to a film of bacteria (multi-drug resistant Acinetobacter baumannii strain) where it killed almost the entire population within 24 hours, reducing it to 1/10,000th of its original size. The approach was also observed on pig tissue, where it killed the majority of the bacteria without affecting the surrounding healthy tissue.

Equipped with these promising results, the researchers used a conductive carbon fabric to build an e-scaffold, which they liken to an electronic Band-Aid. They found that running an electrical current through the fabric resulted in the ongoing production of the hydrogen peroxide needed to kill off the bacteria.

"Many people tried this simple method," says Haluk Beyenal, co-author of the paper. "Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. We controlled the electrochemical reactions. That’s the reason it works."

The researchers are particularly enthusiastic about their approach as they say it can provide an alternative to antibiotics. The widespread use of antibiotics has given rise to strains of drug-resistant bacteria that are difficult to treat, but the team says that such bacteria cannot build up resistance to its electrical stimulation treatment.

The scientists have applied for a patent, and are now working to boost the effectiveness of the e-scaffold and plan to test it on other bacterial species.

The research was published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

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