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2023-06-28| Technology

Innovative Surgical Sensor Patch: Sealing Wounds and Detecting Post-Surgery Suture Leaks

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ETH Zurich and Empa researchers have developed an innovative patch with sensor functionality. This groundbreaking patch is designed to seal abdominal wounds following surgery while also providing a signal for potential suture leaks in the gastrointestinal tract. Made of polymer, the patch serves as an early warning system for impending risky suture leakage. 

The most concerning problem following gastric surgery is anastomotic leakage. Clinical symptoms like fever and tachycardia often manifest after the leak has already formed and become symptomatic. To address this issue, a leak sensor system has been introduced. This system can be integrated into surgical adhesive suture support materials and is responsive to stomach fluid. 

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A Sensor Patch that Wounds and Detects Suture Leaks

Recently, researchers have developed a hydrogel plaster, the patch, that utilizes polymers known for their ability to absorb fluid. These polymers effectively seal the wound by adhering to the intestinal tissue. As a result, the patch helps to prevent the early development of peritonitis or potentially life-threatening blood poisoning by restricting the escape of acidic digestive juices and contaminated food particles from the digestive system. 

Furthermore, the researchers have integrated non-electronic sensors into their patch, which can detect potential leaks before digestive juices enter the abdominal cavity. These sensors consist of protein structures or salts that respond to variations in pH caused by gastric acid leakage or specific enzymes found in the intestine. When the sensor elements come into contact with digestive juices, their structure undergoes changes that can be identified by doctors through biomedical imaging techniques, even from outside the body. 

Visible Computer Tomography and Ultrasound Scans of the Sensor Patch

In their latest study published in the journal Advanced Science, the researchers have successfully integrated sensor elements that can be detected using computer tomography (CT). By utilizing a combination of reactive salts and insoluble tantalum oxide, the sensor elements were shaped in a distinct manner visible in CT scans. When exposed to digestive fluid, the sensors undergo a shape change from a filled round area to a ring. This advancement allows ultrasound or CT imaging to be used in detecting leaks using the sensor patch, which was not possible in previous studies that relied only on ultrasound imaging. 

According to Alexandre Anthis, a postdoc in Herrmann’s group and co-developer of the patch, surgeons have emphasized the importance of closely monitoring the surgical field throughout complex procedures. However, once the abdominal cavity is sealed, they become unaware of potential leaks and may only detect them when it’s already too late.

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