A student at MIT has created a device that helps people heal after severe wounds that costs a fraction of what commercial options cost. The device is a portable version of the negative-pressure devices that accelerates wound healing and reduces the frequency that bandages need to be changed. Commercially available devices cost about $100 and require a lot more energy than the MIT designed $3 device.
Negative-pressure devices, which act like a vacuum over the bandaged wound, have become a central part of wound therapy in the United States over the last decade. They speed healing up to threefold, depending on the type of wound, and in some cases eliminate the need for plastic surgery or skin grafts. A number of commercial versions are available in the U.S. and are used to treat burns and chronic wounds such as bed sores or diabetic foot ulcers. While scientists don’t exactly know why this treatment accelerates the healing process, it likely helps by removing some of the fluid and bacteria that accumulates at the injury site and by increasing blood flow to the wound. The pressure itself may also help healing by bringing together the edges of the wound and delivering mechanical pressure, which has been shown to spur cell growth, says Dennis Orgill, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s who was not involved in the project.
Existing devices are often heavy, about five to 10 pounds, and require an energy source to create the vacuum, making them difficult to apply in disaster settings. Texas-based KCI, the leading maker of negative-pressure machines, has a portable version that’s battery powered, but it costs approximately $100 per day to rent. A number of companies are working on even more portable versions, say Orgill.