Thirteen-year-old Anushka Maiknaware, a seventh-grader at Stoller Middle School in Portland, Oregon has raised the bar for teenagers and healthcare professional alike.

She placed in the top eight in Google’s international science contest and won the Lego Education Builder Award, for the design and testing of a ‘smart bandage’. This inspiring teenager thanked a mathematical YouTuber for introducing her to "fractals and ultimately the elegance of math."

Tiny sensors that use graphene nanoparticles

Embedding tiny monitors into bandages which can sense moisture levels, it allows medical workers to determine their moisture level without having to remove the dressings. Anushka created the sensors by printing a fractal pattern using ink containing graphene nanoparticles, which has been noted for its ability to block moisture.

The bandage itself combined with a biopolymer derived from crustacean shells, creating a light, effective device for controlling bleeding and creating a seal over the wound.

Wound care is a critical part of healthcare, but it is often overlooked in research in favour of bigger, more prestigious endeavours like cancer detection or treating heart disease. Yet, the number of people treated for wounds far outstrips those who need most other kinds of health care.

Currently, bandage changes are timed 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.

‘My idea became a physical, tangible reality’

Anushka’s invention is thus significant because large wounds need to be kept moist to promote healing, but changing bandages too often to check or ensure moisture levels can make wounds worse. Moreover, when wounds take longer to heal, the patients are “susceptible to recurring infections and pain for unnecessarily long periods,” according to the Google Science Fair.

On top of that, the teen’s sensor design “is cheap to build and biocompatible”, so it is not harmful to living tissue. “Anushka believes her solution can help people suffering from chronic wounds heal more quickly, so they can get back to living life,” says Google.

Anushka was the youngest out of 16 global finalists, all of whom travelled to the company's headquarters in Mountain View, California, to present their projects on a wide range of topics, from detecting cancers, to making rockets more efficient, to powering cars with alternative energy. The grand prize winner, 16-year-old South African Kiara Nirghin, found a way to use fruit to retain water in soil and help crops outlast drought.

Google says the teen, who loves chemistry, was inspired by Marie Curie’s work to advance modern medicine. In her biography on the science fair’s website, Anushka stated that she also loves to read and figure skate, and she plans “to get into a top graduate school such as Harvard, MIT or Stanford.” Her award includes a $15,000 scholarship, a free trip to Lego world headquarters in Denmark, and a year of entrepreneurship mentoring from a Lego executive.

According to the teen herself, being able to interact, debate and play with 19 other curious teen scientists from across the world – including Malaysia, Brazil and Zambia - and was one of her favourite life experiences. Another, she said, was the moment she saw her bandage prototype work.

“My idea became a physical, tangible reality,” she said, speaking of the first time her sensor worked. She added that she hopes to use her Lego mentor's advice “to figure out how to get U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for her bandages so a company can produce them at scale and patients can benefit.”

Anushka’s smart bandage could improve medical care for millions around the globe and even save lives or prevent field amputations in combat hospitals. They would improve the quality of life for people suffering from a wide range of wounds by helping to speed their recovery. MIMS

Read more:
9 ways 3D printing has transformed the world of medicine
Dr. Dog will see you now: Superior diagnostic and treatment skills in animals you never knew