High school student develops infection-detecting suture thread

In low and middle-income countries, 11 percent of surgical wounds develop an infection. The problem is particularly severe among women in some African nations where 20 percent of those who deliver via cesarean section experience infection at surgical sites. Realizing the scope of this problem, 17-year-old high school senior Dasia Taylor developed a suture thread that changes color if a surgical site becomes infected. 

Taylor, who lives in Iowa City, Iowa, developed a prototype of her suture for a statewide science fair. Now, she has been named one of 40 finalists in the prestigious Regeneron Science Talent Search

The sutures work by turning from red to dark purple in color when the infection is detected. Human skin has a natural pH level of 5, but goes up to 9 when infected. Taylor realized that certain vegetables, like beets, detect changes in pH, so she designed the sutures to be infused with beet juice that darkens the thread when infections arise. 

Taylor experimented with multiple potential vegetables as well as different thread types to create her ideal prototype. The end result is a cotton-polyester blend that detects infection for up to 10 days before fading to a neutral gray color. 

Taylor hopes to continue to perfect her design so it can one day be used in actual medical settings. Her innovation has the potential to vastly improve infection detection and treatment, especially in medically vulnerable communities. She told Smithsonian Magazine, “I’ve done a lot of racial equity work in my community…So when I was presented with this opportunity to do research, I couldn’t help but go at it with an equity lens.”

Image source: Daily Iowan

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