Premature Baby
A representational image of a premature infant. Reuters

A new kind of medical tape developed by Harvard and MIT scientists could help prevent as many as 1.5 million injuries to hospital patients -- mostly newborn and premature babies -- per year.

Medical tape helps affix lots of devices that patients need to stay alive. But these devices have to be changed often, and removing the tape can be dangerous, especially for premature babies, whose skin isn't fully mature.

“There's tons of horror stories of skin being ripped off, ears torn off,” says Harvard biomedical engineer Jeffrey Karp.

Karp and his colleagues outlined their proposal for a new kind of medical tape with an experimental middle layer in a recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. If it tests well and gets the regulatory stamp of approval, it could be in the clinic as early as 2013 or 2014, he says.

Previous attempts to make medical tape safer often centered on making that adhesive side less sticky. But while this lessened the risk of injury, the tape failed to do the proper job of holding the important medical device onto the patient's skin. So the team decided to try a different angle: making a kind of tape where you could peel the backing off of the adhesive.

Karp says they took some inspiration from natural designs -- gecko toes, multilayered minerals like mica, and spider webs, which have adhesive strands to catch prey and nonadhesive domains for the spider to move around upon.

The team was also inspired by the little bits of paper on Band-Aids that have to be peeled off to expose the adhesive parts. That paper is covered with an anti-adhesive material, typically silicone-based. By introducing a layer of anti-adhesive material into medical tape, between the backing and the adhesive sides, they could ensure that the backing could peel off without having to reduce the strength of the adhesive.

Using laser etching to create a pattern of adhesive and anti-adhesive areas on the middle layer yielded a tape that could hold medical devices fast but from which the top can be removed with ease. The remaining adhesive left on a patient's skin can be gently rubbed off, or de-tackified with the application of talc, Karp says.

Plus, “the process is completely scalable -- essentially all the materials are the same” as those used in current medical tapes, and “all processes used are already in place at large-scale manufacturing facilities,” Karp says.

SOURCE: Laulicht et al. “Quick-release Medical Tape.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published online 29 October 2012.