Special Color-Changing Bandages Could Sense and Treat Difficult Bacterial Infections

When doctors first started prescribing Penicillin in the 1940’s it led the charge for placing antibiotics at the center of modern medicine.  After all, this drug alone has saved millions of lives over the better part of he last century.  Recent studies by the United Nations and the World Health Organization, however, suggest that Penicillin may no longer be the go-to antibiotic. In fact, we may need to find a new miracle drug.

Unfortunately, the bane of this medication has been its extreme effectiveness.  As a matter of fact, antibiotics have become somewhat innocuous in society, today, since they are commonly used in both human and animal applications.  Broad-spectrum antibiotics have made it very easy to treat a wide variety of patients but have also made it easy to ensure that the food we eat are free of bacterial contaminants. 

But Penicillin’s ease-bringing beacon might have encouraged a premature reliance. And this fervent dependence has resulted in bacteria that has evolved to be resistant to the most common medications.  In fact, the United Nations notes that 700,000 people die each year due to complications arising from drug-resistant diseases.  While these numbers are somewhat alarming, the World Health Organization warns that the low-profit margins for these drugs have caused pharmaceutical companies to abandon their development. 

That means we could expect to see upwards of 10 million global deaths from drug-resistant diseases, every year, by 2050, according to the United Nations. 

Fortunately, a team of scientists have developed a material that changes color—from green to yellow—when it comes into contact with the acidic microenvironment common to a bacterial infection.  When incorporated into a bandage, then, the mateiral can release an drug-sensitive antibacteria. If it turns out the bacteria is drug-resistant, the bandage will turn red.  At this stage a practitioner can shine a light onto the bandage which will cause the material to release another reactive oxygen species aimed to kill or—more likely—weaken the bacteria; which can then, hopefully, be treated with other medications. 

Most importantly, the research team successfully used the bandages to speed the healing of wounds in mice that had been infected with either drug-sensitive or drug-resistant bacteria.d