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Sutures that heal and monitor

Scanning electron microscope image of the cross-section of TGS suture. Image credit: Zhenwei Ma, McGill University

Sutures have been used for thousands of years by all civilisation. We have testimony of sutures using vegetable fibres, even sutures using the claws of some type of insects. Of course, modern medicine is no longer using these “natural” materials having been able to leverage on much better materials created artificially. We now have materials with different characteristics to fit different situations, elasticity vs rigidity as an example, including material that after a predefined period of time can dissolve in the tissues.

Yet, we do not have, yet, the ideal suture material, something that can work as well as cells do, sticking with one another without adversely affecting the tissue (by compressing vases, creating allergic reaction/inflammation…).

Researchers at the McGill University, Montreal Canada, have been able to create tough gel sheathed sutures getting inspiration from human tendons.

The gel ensure a frictionless contact with tissues, thus avoiding one of the problems of today’s sutures. Additionally, and like a human tendon, this material can be imbibed with specific substances that facilitate the healing of the tissue. These substances can be selected on a case by case bases to fit specific needs.

It does not stop there. The researches are working to make possible the inclusion of materials that can be used to sense physiological parameters (like the incipient presence of an infection) and transmit this information to a receiving device that can be placed in a wearable (like a smart watch or a smartphone). On a shorter time frame they have proposed the use of a material that can sense some physiological parameters and change its structure in a way that can be detected by illuminating the skin over the future by infrared beams. An analyses of the reflection of the infrared beams provide data to a computer (it can be the one inside the doctor’s smartphone) converting them into information on the status of the healing process.

This is another example on the creation and use of smart materials. We are going to see plenty of innovation on smart materials in this decade, also thanks to artificial intelligence that allows engineers to design materials starting from the characteristics they need. The software, using AI, will be able to explore millions of possible combinations of molecule converging on the one that would meet the requirements.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.