Mass General Researcher Receives Fellowship for Developing Color-Changing Bandage

Haley Marks, PhD

Haley Marks, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Massachusetts General Hospital Wellman Center for Photomedicine, recently received the inaugural SPIE-Franz Hillenkamp Postdoctoral Fellowship in Problem-Driven Biophotonics and Biomedical Optics.

We asked her about her research and how this fellowship will benefit her work:

What problem(s) are you addressing with your research?

My research is focused on the development of a new type of advanced bandage that will both monitor the skin’s response to injury and enable the direct on-demand release of drugs. Tissue oxygenation is an important factor in wound healing; oxygen is actively metabolized to power the healing process. Inadequate oxygen supply can lead to slow healing wounds, infection, and even amputation.  Current bandages and dressings require multiple clinic visits for physicians to assess wound healing progress, and the required frequent dressing changes can be painful and lead to unintended wound infections. Our lab is currently developing a color-changing dressing to visually alert clinicians of the tissue’s physiologic state with the hope of reducing unnecessary discomfort to patients, minimizing the time and materials spent on redressing, and potentially facilitating drug delivery in response to the wound bed environment.

What methods are you using?

For years, a sensor called the fingertip pulse oximeter has been the gold standard for clinical oximetry. These sensors are not only an indirect measure of oxygenation, but also require placement onto a transparent region of the body, occlude the area from the clinician’s view, or need to be wired to external hardware for signal interpretation.

In contrast, our oxygen sensor is in the form of a paintable liquid bandage, so it is not only wireless, but also completely transparent once it dries onto the surface of the skin. Additionally, the oxygen-sensitive color change can be seen by the naked eye or quantified into oxygen concentration values by collecting an image using cameras or smartphones.

What results have you found thus far and what are the implications for clinical care?

Currently our oxygen-sensing bandage has been validated in humans for several sectors of clinical care. Our first and longest running study so far compares our bandage in a head-to-head comparison with traditional oximeters. This project is run under the direction of plastic surgeon Dr. Samuel Lin at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and involves 48-hour monitoring of women who have undergone breast reconstructive surgery following mastectomy.

Another exciting opportunity this year is a collaboration with dermatology clinical researchers at the Mass General Wellman Center for Photomedicine to assess the bandages’ potential as a diagnostic tool for bacterial skin infections such as cellulitis. The goal of this study is to determine if the detection and quantification of tissue oxygenation parameters can aid in the differentiation of infectious causes of inflammation from non-infectious ones.

Last, our largest ongoing study so far has just kicked off at the Mass General Translational and Clinical Research Center, sponsored by a gift from Procter & Gamble, and is recruiting healthy volunteers for a study to assess any intrinsic skin oxygenation differences due to long term sun exposure.

How will this fellowship help advance your research?

The purpose of the SPIE Franz Hillenkamp is to provide postdoctoral researchers working in the field of translational biophotonics with independent funding to investigate a new, clinically motivated, technologies. My research proposal incorporates our existing oxygen-sensing chemistry into a biocompatible dressing that is better suited for open and oozing wounds. As a member of the Wellman Center, I will also have the benefit of co-mentorship under this grant from both Dr. Conor Evans, for research, and Dr. Gabriela Apiou, for translational sciences, and our lab’s ongoing clinical trials allow me to receive critical feedback from the end users themselves: the physicians surrounding us here at MGH.

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