Sunday, September 25, 2016

Science Fair Rock Star: Anushka Naiknaware

This is the eighth in an ongoing series highlighting some of the amazing young women participating in the 2016 Google Science Fair. (Here are the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh posts.) Each of these smart young scientists has survived both the rigorous first pass and the second regional round, and have been named Global Finalist, meaning they have moved into the final round of competition. You can be sure I'll be watching the celebration event on September 27, 2016.

Wound care is a critical part of health care, but one that too often gets overlooked in research in favor of bigger, more prestigious endeavors like cancer detection or treating heart disease. But the number of people treated for wounds far outpaces those who need most other kinds of health care. And while it might seem like clinicians are simply wrapping a wound to protect it, there is far more going on underneath the bandage than a little ointment and cotton gauze.

Anushka Naiknaware, 13, knows that effective treatment of wounds involves balancing several different but interdependent goals: stopping any bleeding, absorbing any excess fluid, addressing signs of infection, and keeping the wound at the optimum moisture level to heal quickly and cleanly. To that end, she's created a bandage with a built-in sensor to do all of these things.

As she explains in her Google Science Fair project, "Fractal inspired Chitosan and Carbon Nanoparticle Based Biocompatible Sensor for Wound Management," she created a printable sensor that could accurately and reliably monitor the moisture level under the banadage to determine the optimal time to change the dressing. Currently, these changes are timed using an educated guess based on experience. Frequently, the bandages are either changed too soon -- leading to a reopening of the wound -- or too late -- allowing a drop in moisture which can lead to infection and slowed healing.

The bandage itself is made from nanoparticles -- an exciting new field of study for medical applications -- and combined with a biopolymer derived from crustacean shells, creating a light, effective device for controlling bleeding and creating a seal over the wound.
The US army has designed chitosan band aids and gauze that accelerate the process of blood clotting. The chitosan from the gauze is charged, and blood contains the opposite charge. This draws them together, opposite charges attract, creating a seal. These products prevent amputation and the wound from worsening. These bandages are now sold commercially for wounds which bleed excessively and for those that have platelet related diseases.
Her smart bandage has the potential of improving the medical care for countless people around the globe. They can be used in combat hospitals to help injured soldier and civilians, possibly saving lives or preventing field amputations. On a more general scale, these would have a great impact on the daily lives of people suffering from a wide range of wounds, helping to speed their recovery and improving their quality of life.

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