From fish skin to synthetic spray-on skin to stem cell therapy, lots of advancements in burn injury treatment have been made in recent years. Now researchers at University of Colorado Boulder have developed electronic skin or “e-skin,” designed to mimic real skin in every respect.
Skin is the human body’s largest organ and it plays a critical role in how we interact with the external environment. Not only does it protect our internal organs and tissue, it helps us sense temperature, pressure, vibration, and touch. In many ways, our skin is a highly sensitive and complex biological suit that responds to and protects us from the outside world.
But it’s also exposed and highly vulnerable to injury. Skin has an incredible ability to self-heal, but severe burns and other more serious skin injuries can damage skin beyond its regenerative abilities. That’s where the University of Colorado’s e-skin can help.
According to the University of Colorado Boulder, the e-skin integrates all the major sensors of real skin, such as temperature, strain, humidity, and chemical. The e-skin is also malleable, fully recyclable, and rehealable.
“What is unique here is that the chemical bonding of polyimine we use allows the e-skin to be both self-healing and fully recyclable at room temperature,” said Jianliang Xiao, an assistant professor in CU Boulder’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and one of the lead developers.
“Given the millions of tons of electronic waste generated worldwide every year, the recyclability of our e-skin makes good economic and environmental sense,” Xiao said, according to CU Boulder.
CU Boulder’s e-skin technology is part of a broader global effort to develop electronic skin that can essentially function the same way as natural skin and serve in a multitude of applications.
In addition to healing burn injuries and other health care applications, the e-skin’s functionalities and mechanical properties also have great potential in robotics, prosthetics, and the human-computer interface, researchers said in a study partially funded by the National Science Foundation.
National Burn Awareness Week is observed each year during the first full week of February. According to the American Burn Association, Burn Awareness Week provides an opportunity “for burn care organizations, burn survivor support groups, public safety, and injury prevention professionals to increase awareness among the general population of the frequency and causes of burn injury in America, and the advances in and sources of burn care available today.”