Babies born with serious medical conditions often spend their first days in the hospital’s intensive-care unit. Covered in sticky medical tape used to anchor IV tubes, catheters or electronic monitors, the newborns, experts say, can be subject to painful and even dangerous removal and reapplication adhesive materials.
According to Jeff Karp, co-director of the Center for Regenerative Therapeutics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, damage to the delicate skin of sick newborns is one of the leading problems facing neonatal intensive care units.
“Children in these units are just wrapped in these tapes, [which are] constantly needing to be replaced," he says.
Because the devices securced by adhesive tape are essential to medical monitoring, Karp and his colleagues set about making a better adhesive, one that has all the holding power of conventional tape but that can be pulled off without causing harm to delicate skin.
“There’s all sorts of horror stories of permanent damage being done, as well as tissue torn from the skin; even ears being torn," says Karp, explaining that normal medical tape has two layers — a non-sticky backing and the sticky film that adheres to the skin.
The new tape adds a third complete layer of adhesive that remains on the skin after the other layers of tape are removed.
“What we found is that when you have a continuous layer of adhesive that’s left, as what’s done with our system, [the remaining] adhesive can just roll off the skin and be less painful and much quicker to remove,” he says.
The new, gentler adhesive tape will also be helpful with elderly patients, whose thin, delicate skin can be prone to tearing.
Made from materials already in wide use, Karp believes the improved tape will get prompt regulatory approval and soon be available to hospitals and clinics.
An article on the development of painless "Quick-release medical tape" is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.