17 June 2021

A diamond-enriched smart dressing made of silk that enables doctors to read the chemistry of an infected or healing wound could be the answer to more effective therapies, particularly for burns.

The ‘smart’ dressing uses a silk membrane which is a biologically compatible and embedded with nanodiamonds  and a pH-sensitive fluorescent compound. The nanodiamonds are known to detect biologically relevant temperatures to a highly precise level through changes in their fluorescence emission. The smart dressing monitors the temperature of a wound and pH balance to detect early signs infection.

Funded through a $900,000 NHMRC Ideas Grant research to develop the smart dressing will also help researchers better understand the chemistry of positive wound healing.

diamond enriched silk dressing

The project is led by Professor Brant Gibson, Deputy Director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics at RMIT University.

He has teamed up with a cross-disciplinary collaboration of scientists including Dr Asma Khalid (also from RMIT University), Professor Robert McLaughlin (University of Adelaide), Professor Allison Cowin (University of South Australia), Associate Professor Mark Fear (University of Western Australia), Associate Professor Christina Bursill (South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute), Associate Professor Suzanne Rea (Perth Children’s Hospital) and renowned burns specialist Professor Fiona Wood (Fiona Stanley Hospital), known as co-developer of spray-on skin to treat severe burns.

“This project is a great example of collaboration across disciplines with physics, chemistry and biology coming together to find clinical solutions to wound care,” said Professor Gibson.

Professor Fiona Woods said the smart dressing was the next generation of wound management that would drive new therapies for wound treatment. 

“We use dressing systems that cover and protect the wound and to facilitate healing.  However, we are blind because we cover the wound and we can only understand the impact when we take the dressing down,” Professor Wood said.

“We’re looking at the in situ, point-of-care science of the wound where we will understand the changes in the wound and the underlying chemistry of positive healing to guide therapy.”

The collaborative team has commenced the project by exploring innovative fabrication strategies of the smart dressing that maximise temperature and pH sensitivities which have the potential for rapid decision making.  This current work also involves evaluating existing burn dressings to determine future opportunities to integrate the smart sensing platform. 

A particular advantage of new generation smart dressings will be in the treatment of burns for infants too young to communicate.  

June is Kidsafe Burns Awareness Month highlighting the need to continually strive to improve care for burns and wounds.

The project is one of 283 Ideas Grants funded for 3-5 years with a $260 million investment through NHMRC, announced at the end of 2020.

The funding supports thousands of researchers to pursue their goals and a broad range of research from discovery science through to clinical research, health services and public health research. 

Find out more about Ideas Grants.