Bandages could soon be able to heal wounds rather than just protect them, thanks to a group of University of Wisconsin researchers.

The invention consists of a bandage with mounted ultraviolet lights that are oriented toward and pressed up against the skin, Yei Hwan Jung, a member of the team that worked on the project, said.

The bandage invention won the top prize of $15,000 in the Qualcomm Innovation Competition at UW. The research team included Jung, Akshay Kumar and Mehdi Shokoueinejad, all of whom are Ph.D. students in the College of Engineering, as well as their mentor Sarah Sandock, all of whom brought unique contributions to the team.

“Diversity definitely had a hand in the development of this project,” Jung said. “I am an embedded systems engineer from India, Mehdi focuses on bio-instrumentation and is from Iran and Yei Hwan is a flexible systems engineer from Korea. I think that this kind of diversity is what made the project so great.”

Jung said while searching through news articles, he found light therapy had shown promise in treating ulcers and acne. He said the team then had the idea to mount therapeutic lights on a bandage.

“It basically works by a similar method in how plants use chlorophyll to absorb light in their cells” Jung said.

Currently, light therapy methods involve external exposure of the skin to ultraviolet and blue light, Jung said. By mounting LED lights on a bandage against the skin, it is possible to maximize the depth of light penetration, he said.

Kumar said the bandage is effective in treating pressure ulcers, which many hospital patients suffer from after spending long periods of time lying in their beds.

“We didn’t get this idea in a flash,” he said. “We had been brainstorming a lot of ideas, but this had more promising ground.”

Most public and private insurance companies do not cover hospital-acquired diseases such as pressure ulcers, Kumar said. There is a huge market of about $11 billion for treating these disorders, he said.

The health care market surrounding wound treatment also needs cost-effective innovations for infection prevention, Sandock said. The device could effectively lower health care costs for both the patient and hospital while improving overall patient health, she said.

While the bandage is currently aimed at fighting pressure ulcers, Kumar said they hope to expand the product into the market of all wound healing applications including acne treatment for teenagers.

“We would like to create a full-on prototype that demonstrates accelerated healing,” Kumar said. “We also need to gain momentum and attract investors.”

Jung said the team would also like to make the bandage multi-functional by adding multiple health-monitoring sensors. Such sensors could monitor skin conditions and send collected data to a physician for analysis, he said.