This 17-Year-Old's Color-Changing Sutures Might Save Lives

infection-detecting sutures

Photo Credit: Tai Dundua/Shutterstock

Color us impressed: A 17-year-old high schooler in Iowa City, Iowa, just developed a suture thread that detects when a surgical wound becomes infected.

Dasia Taylor began working on this project back in October 2019 in an effort to partake in state-wide science fairs after her chemistry teacher, Carolyn Walling, told her about them, per Smithsonian Magazine. Taylor had reportedly read about "sutures coated with a conductive material that can sense the status of a wound by changes in electrical resistance."  While those sutures were linked to technology connected to the smartphones or computers of doctors and patients, Taylor ideated a cheaper solution to the same problem for people in less fortunate and developing countries. 

“I've done a lot of racial equity work in my community, I've been a guest speaker at several conferences,” Taylor told Smithsonian. “So when I was presented with this opportunity to do research, I couldn't help but go at it with an equity lens.”

Thus began Taylor's quest to find a solution. Working after school for months alongside Walling, the two experimented with fruits and vegetables to find a "natural indicator" that would change color at different pH levels. Healthy human skin has a pH of around five and an infected wound has a pH of about nine. 

Ultimately, Taylor found that beets were the answer.

“I found that beets changed color at the perfect pH point,” she told the publication, noting that bright red beet juice would turn to dark purple at a pH of nine. “That's perfect for an infected wound. And so, I was like, ‘Oh, okay. So beets is where it's at.’”

After that, Taylor had to test many different materials for the right suture thread — settling on a cotton-polyester blend. Now, Taylor hopes that the work she's done will help patients find infections as early as possible.

Kathryn Chu, the director of the Center for Global Surgery at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, who focuses on improving equitable access to surgical care told the Smithsonian of Taylor's work: “I think it is amazing that this young high school scientist was inspired to work on a solution to address this problem. A product that could detect early [surgical site infections] would be extremely valuable.”

Despite her great strides in science, Taylor doesn't aspire to pursue a career in scientific research at all: She wants to become a lawyer. Well, Dasia, we have no doubts that you'll achieve whatever you set your mind to.

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