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Nidhi Subbaraman

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Medical Duct Tape That Goes Easy on the Skin

Pain-less Band-Aids may be in our future.

  • November 1, 2012

The flat ends of monitors that track vital signs are some of the first things to touch a preemie baby after it is born. But the tape that glues monitors in place to their feet or head or chest risks stripping away a generous layer of their new, tender skin when it is peeled off. For infants, this could lead to skin trouble or scarring that lasts through life.

A new kind of medical tape could ease some of that distress. It’s designed to be sticky enough to keep the monitors on, but requires less force to peel off—something its creators call the “quick-release” approach.

While normal medical tape is double-layered, the new tape has three separate layers. It’s made of a backing layer, an intermediate layer, and an adhesive that sticks to the skin. The weakest link is between the adhesive and backing layers, the researchers explain. When the tape is peeled off, it exerts less force on the skin than regular tape would. The adhesive layer stays on the skin, and can be rolled off and removed. A description of the tape is published in the Proceedings of the National Academies this week.

Bryan Laulicht, the paper’s first author, tested the strips on Origami paper. (Like sensitive skin, origami paper peels off in layers when an adhesive strip is pasted on and peeled off.) The three-layered quick-release tape passed the Origami paper test, as the video below shows. It peeled away without tearing the paper underneath, unlike regular medical tape.

Jeff Karp, one of the authors of the study, is a serious glue guy. Together with Bob Langer, a biology research dynamo from MIT, Karp’s previous work includes tissue-friendly tape modeled on the sticky toes of geckos that is stretchy and biodegradable. Possible uses the Karp and co. had in mind at the time featured the tape as a backup, or as even a replacement, to surgical sutures, or as stick-on drug delivery patches. 

Karp and co. have yet to talk about any plans for pain-free Band-Aids and plasters, but according to MIT News they have filed a patent for the tape and are waiting for approval to begin tests on adults.

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