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Crystal Sense, funded by four researchers of UCIBIO at FCT/UNL, is developing a promising product that will reduce the number of infections and its effects, following a surgery. Cecília Roque, head of the Biomolecular Engineering Lab, and mentor of this project, explains that every year, there are around 285 million surgery wounds in the world; it is estimated that there is a probability of infection in 10 % of the surgeries.


The problem is that not always these surgical site infections are detected, as their symptoms are often confused with symptoms caused by the surgery itself.  Even when doctors or nurses suspect of these infections, the confirmation is done by laboratory techniques, which takes 24 to 48 hours to reveal which is the microorganism responsible for that infection. The Crystal Sense team, composed by Cecília Roque, Ana Margarida Dias, Ana Sofia Pina and Ricardo Branco, idealize a wound dressing that will detect and alert for the presence of microorganisms on the surgical wound in a few seconds.


The wound dressing that detects surgical site infections is based on the developing of sensors composed by biodegradable materials that change their electric and optical properties when in contact with the odor produced by different microorganisms. The scientists of Crystal Sense are working on a product aiming to detect four microorganisms, namely Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas Aeruginosa, Enterococcus faecalis and Staphylococcus aureus, which are the most common ones to be identified on surgical site infections.


Cecília Roque explains that in the next three years the team will be working on the design of the first product, and the following three years will be for another big challenge; get the product certification, which implies different performance and quality assurance tests. Thus, the first product should arrive in the market in six years.


This technology developed by Crystal Sense can have different applications in various fields. Cecília explains that it can be very useful to find out in an easier way the percentages of the different components of fuel or to analyze the quality of food. The researchers believe that the high degree of requirements on the health sector for the accreditation of a product can be a useful way of opening doors to other industries that present less complex requirements. These are alternatives that we should exploit in medium and long term if there is an interest in the market, says Ricardo Branco.


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