Surgical tape for premature babies

The best way to remove a plaster is also the most painful – counting to three and ripping it off as fast as you can.  Now scientists have developed a surgical tape that can be taken off without any wincing.

Their aim was to improve the care of premature babies whose skin is too delicate to cope with the tough tapes used to attach vital tubes, monitors and leads to their faces and bodies.  But adults of a delicate disposition could also benefit because the technology could be used to create wince-free sticking plasters.

The brains behind the tape that ‘tears without tears’ include Professor Robert Langer, a leading scientist whose ot  His team from Boston in the US were inspired by a survey that named surgical tape as the biggest problem facing hospital units for premature babies.  This is because the tape used to attach breathing tubes to their faces, temperature probes their ankles and heart monitor leads to their chests, tends to tear their delicate skin when it is removed.  Bad wounds can cause permanent scarring and damage to joints.  Previous attempts to solve the problem have led to tapes that are less sticky and so kinder to young skin. However, they don’t stay on as well.

The new tape has the same adhesive and backing as traditional versions but has an extra, textured layer that sits in the middle and has to be peeled back for the tape to be removed.  If the top layer, the backing, is simply pulled, this middle layer does not give and the tape stays in place.  But if the middle layer is peeled back, it gives and falls away from the skin, leaving the glue behind.  The glue can then be simply rubbed off with the fingers or left to drop off naturally.  Crucially, the process is pain-free.  Researcher and guinea pig Jeffrey Karp, of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said: ‘We’ve experimented with it.

‘It works very well and it’s completely painless.’  Tests on babies are planned and, if all goes well, the tape could be on the market in just one to two years.  Dr Karp added that doctors and nurses in a children’s hospital involved in developing the tape ‘can’t wait to use it’.  Those whose skin has thinned with age could also benefit, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports.  Andy Cole, chief executive of premature baby charity Bliss, said: ‘A premature baby’s skin is extremely sensitive and fragile, with even the smallest tear being a potential route for infections.  ‘We welcome anything that ensures a baby’s pain is well managed, and tears to a baby’s skin are kept to an absolute minimum.’

The new tape has the same adhesive and backing as traditional versions but has an extra, textured layer that sits in the middle and has to be peeled back for the tape to be removed.

If the top layer, the backing, is simply pulled, this middle layer does not give and the tape stays in place.

But if the middle layer is peeled back, it gives and falls away from the skin, leaving the glue behind.

The glue can then be simply rubbed off with the fingers or left to drop off naturally.

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