Scientists create a bandage that promises not to hurt when removed

Shine On

"It's like ripping off a Band-Aid."

It's a expression we've likely all used, but one that may be meaningless to future generations, thanks to scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. The team of researchers have developed a new "quick release" medical tape that could make the future of bandage removal a gloriously painless affair.

But if you think these clever biological engineers spent months in a lab to save you a few seconds of pain, you'd be wrong. They did it for the children. Apparently, babies that are born prematurely have very delicate skin, and they  often need to be hooked up to various tubes and medical devices with adhesive tape that is simply not designed for them.

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The tape currently available is supposed to break apart where the skin meets the tape, but often doesn't and tears the skin while leaving the tape intact. The tears in babys can lead to lifelong scarring — it's one of the biggest problems facing neonatal units, reports Time magazine.

Biological engineers to the rescue! This new tape, described this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is made up of three layers.

Thanks to the miracle of science, this tape stays securely in place when pulled in almost any direction, except when it is being peeled directly away from the skin. But the real trick behind the new tape is that instead of separating at the skin, the top layer pulls away from the adhesive layer. All that's left behind is an extra-thick layer of adhesive that can be painlessly rubbed off with a finger.

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Interestingly, the inspiration came from the original Band-Aid brand.

"We noticed when opening a Band-Aid that there are strips of paper, which are easily removed from the Band-Aid to expose the adhesive," explains Bryan Laulicht, a postdoctoral associate at MIT's Institute for Medical Engineering and Science who was involved in the development of the tape.

"These strips of paper are covered in release liner, which is what gives them their anti-adhesive properties. To achieve the dual functionality tape that adheres devices well and yet can be easily removed, we made a composite middle layer that has anti-adhesive release liner regions and adhesive regions made from standard backing materials."

Though the tape was designed specifically for babies, Laulicht says it could be useful in "any sensitive skin population, including the elderly."

And what about the rest of us?

"It is our hope that quick-release tape will be translated rapidly and that it will be available for commercial production in the next few years," says Laulicht, which is great news — we were over the Band-Aid metaphor anyway.