Engineers at Tufts University have come up with a new “smart thread” diagnostic platform that could revolutionize the way we diagnose medical issues. This could be the beginning of a new generation of smart wearable devices and implantable medical diagnostics.

The new microfluidic threads created by the team can be sutured through many layers of tissue in order to sample the body’s fluid. After the microfluidic threads collect tiny samples of tissue fluid, the samples are conveyed to sensing threads. These sensing threads measure a number of properties such as pH and glucose, and the data is sent to a flexible wireless transmitter that can be placed on top of the skin.This data is sent via electrically conductive threads.

Microfluidics is a fairly new practice. This technology applies ideas from a number of disciplines including chemistry, biochemistry, physics, engineering, biotechnology, and nanotechnology. Using microfluidics, tiny amounts of fluid can be controlled using microchannels.

The team behind the study was able to show how the smart thread can collect and transmit medical data in live rats. The data, which included pH and glucose levels, stress, strain, tissue pressure, and temperature, was transmitted to a computer and a cell phone.

Having the ability to measure these properties in real time in three dimensions in live tissue could be useful in a number of medical applications. This technology could help to monitor wound healing, emerging infections, and any imbalances in the body’s chemistry.

It is extremely exciting that this 3-D platform is able to conform to the structure of complex tissues, such as those found in wounds, organs, and orthopedic implants. The way the thread-based diagnostic device can be sutured in a tissue or organ environment so intimately in three dimensions adds something new to the world of diagnostics. This feature has never been available with any other flexible diagnostic platforms.

One thing that isn’t new, however, is the concept of smart devices being capable of medical monitoring. For example, smart insulin patches are being developed that can sense high blood sugar, and can thus discharge the right amount of insulin. There are also smart wound dressings that can sense bacterial infections.

Up until now, the structure of implantable devices has been two dimensional. This is useful but it can only be used on flat tissue such as skin. There is another drawback to the 2-D devices. The materials in the substrates require specialized processing and are therefore expensive.

Smart thread is the solution to many of these inconveniences. Smart thread is made of thin, inexpensive, flexible material that can easily form into complex shapes. The thread also possesses natural wicking properties. This could be instrumental in conveying analytes, substances that help with chemical analysis of the tissue.
According to research, there is still more work to be done. One task that lies ahead is assessing the smart thread’s long-term biocompatibility. However, the results acquired so far show that treatments may be optimized to suit individual patients. This technology has the potential to make a big difference in the field of medical diagnostics.