The synthetic hydrogel material consists of four different acrylic substances. (Credit: Empa)

To ensure that wounds remain tightly sealed in the abdomen after surgery, researchers have developed a patch with a sensor function. The polymer patch warns before the occurrence of dangerous leaks on sutures in the gastrointestinal tract take hold, while it closes the areas on its own.

The novel material achieves vision through a sensitive reaction to changes in the pH value and the occurrence of certain proteins in the vicinity of the wound. Depending on the location of the leak, the reaction takes place within minutes or a few hours. Until now, healthcare professionals have had to rely on physical reactions of those affected or laboratory tests that occur much later — both indications may come too late at providing a clear indication of a leaking seam.

The sensor patch, on the other hand, makes it possible to detect digestive fluid that escapes in the event of a leak due to its composite structure. For example, acidic gastric juice reacts with the sensor material so that fine gas bubbles appear in the matrix of the patch. The bubbles can then be visualized using ultrasound. The patches can be equipped with tailor-made sensors for different parts of the digestive tract. The patch can even release medication if necessary, such as antibacterial agents.