Nowhere is fast and effective medical treatment more important than on the battlefield, where injuries are difficult and conditions dangerous. DARPA believes that the results can be improved by using intelligent bandages and other systems that require and automatically respond to the patient's needs.
Common cuts and scratches just need some protection and time and your amazing immune system takes care of things. But soldiers not only get much more serious wounds, but under complicated conditions that are not only an obstacle to healing but unpredictable.
DARPA's Bioelectronics for Tissue Regeneration Program, or BETR, will help fund new treatments and devices that "closely track the wound's progress and then stimulate real-time healing processes to optimize tissue repair and reconstruction."
" Wounds are living environments and conditions change rapidly as cells and tissues communicate and attempt to repair, "said Paul Sheehan, BETR's program manager, in a DARPA press release. "An ideal treatment should feel, process and respond to these changes in the wound state and intervene to correct and accelerate recovery. For example, we anticipate interventions that modulate the immune response, recruit the necessary cell types to the wound, or control how stem cells differ to accelerate healing. "
It is not difficult to imagine what these interventions would mean. Smart watches already have the ability to monitor several vital signs, and have actually alerted users to such things as irregular heart rate. A smart bandage would use any signal it can collect ̵
A simple example can be a wound that the bandage detects from certain chemical signals infected with a certain type of bacteria. It can then administer the correct antibiotic in the right dose and stop if necessary rather than wait for a prescription. Or if the bandage detects shear force and then an increase in heart rate, it is likely that the patient has moved and is in pain, comes with analgesics. Of course, all this information would be passed on to the healthcare provider.
This system may require some artificial intelligence, although of course it must be quite limited. But biological signals can be noisy and machine learning is a powerful tool to sort through that type of data.
BETR is a four-year program, where DARPA hopes it can stimulate innovation in space and create a "loop, adaptive system" that significantly improves performance. There is another requirement to get a system that deals with osseointegration surgery for prosthesis – a sad necessity for many serious injuries that occurred during combat.
It is hoped that the technology will seep naturally, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. It is all essentially theoretical for now, but it seems more than possible that the pieces could come together well before the deadline.