The smart patch that aims to detect arthritis

I’ve written previously about a number of interesting new ‘smart’ bandages that perform a range of monitoring tasks in addition to keeping wounds clean.

For instance, researchers at UC Barkeley have developed a new ‘smart bandage’ that uses electrical currents to detect tissue damage before it is visible to the human eye.

Researchers in the UK have come up with a similar product that was unveiled recently.  The bandage is capable of turning a different color when it detects the onset of infection, thus providing medics with an early warning of problems afoot.

The product, which was documented in a recently published paper, turns bright green when the gel like material within the dressing detects bacteria.

Or you have the patch developed recently to help diabetes sufferers manage their glucose levels with a patch that automatically monitors glucose levels and administers insulin to keep them in check.

Smart patches

The latest product of this ilk is under development by a team from Cardiff University, who are developing a smart patch to help detect the early onset of osteoarthritis in our knees.

The patch utilizes the same technology used to detect damage in the wings of an aircraft.  The technology listens out for subsonic cracking sounds in joints, which are an early indicator of later problems.

The patch promises to provide a cheaper, quicker way of diagnosis than existing methods.

“The idea has got huge potential to change the way we diagnose osteoarthritis (OA),” the team say.  “If we’re able to link the sound signature of a healthy knee and a knee with disease, we will be able to lower the costs on society a lot.”

Early detection

The early stages of OA produce a very fine, high frequency noise that isn’t audible to the human ear, but can be picked up by the kind of acoustic emission sensors included in the patches.

Suffice to say, the patches are a long way from the market at the moment, with the researchers predicting that they will be released within the next decade, albeit with prototypes available for trial within a year.

Whilst the technology sounds very complex, and therefore expensive, the team believe that they can produce them very cheaply, as the sensors themselves typically cost a matter of cents.  This affordability opens up a new avenue of diagnosis, especially through self-monitored means such as mobile apps.

As with most diseases, early detection can be incredibly useful in successful management of the condition.

“The key thing is most people, once they have got joint pain, it’s too late – they have got the disease already. Whereas, there might be points where we can intervene earlier,” the team say.

Early diagnosis can allow people to implement new exercise regimes to combat it, or use assistive devices to help slow down the condition.

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