In a move toward the next generation of implantable diagnostic devices and smart wearable systems, researchers at Tufts University have successfully integrated conductive threads through multiple layers of tissue to gather diagnostic data wirelessly and in real time.

The three-dimensional “smart” thread platform is made up of nano-scale sensors, electronics and microfluids integrated into threads and connected to wireless electronic circuitry to make a flexible platform that the team sutured into tissue in rats as well as rats in vitro. In the study, published Monday in Microsystems & Nanoengineering, researchers used the threads to collect data on tissue health— including stress, strain and temperature— and pH and glucose levels, that can be used to determine wound healing status, emerging infections and chemical imbalances.

Results were transmitted wirelessly to a cell phone and computer, according to a news release.

Their findings may aid in optimizing patient-specific treatments, researchers noted.

"We think thread-based devices could potentially be used as smart sutures for surgical implants, smart bandages to monitor wound healing, or integrated with textile or fabric as personalized health monitors and point-of-care diagnostics,” study corresponding author Sameer Sonkusale, Ph.D., director of the interdisciplinary Nano Lab in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Tufts University's School of Engineering, said in the news release.

More on this...

Implantable devices have used expensive substrates that are two-dimensional, limiting their usefulness to flat tissue, such as skin.

“By contrast, thread is abundant, inexpensive, thin and flexible, and can be easily manipulated into complex shapes," study first author Pooria Mostafalu, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow with the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, said in the news release. "Additionally, analytes can be delivered directly to tissue by using thread's natural wicking properties."