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‘Smart’ Mattress Will Help Prevent Bed Sores

M2D2, UMass Lowell, TheraTorr Collaborate on Project

Patients lying stationary in bed for extended periods of time can develop serious, even life-threatening, bed sores.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

Bed sores are one of the leading causes of open wounds in bed-ridden patients, especially those in nursing homes. Also called pressure ulcers, they’re brought about by constant pressure on the skin, particularly on the back, elbows, ankles, heels, hips, buttocks, shoulders and head.

The Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center (M2D2) and UMass Lowell’s Plastics Engineering Department are collaborating with TheraTorr Medical Inc., a medical device company based in Beverly, in developing an ultra low-pressure air mattress that is designed to prevent the formation of bed sores. M2D2 is the UMass LowellߝUMass Medical School initiative charged with bridging the gap between invention and production of new medical devices.

“TheraTorr is one of four start-up companies that have raised a combined total of more than $5 million in private funding since they became associated with M2D2,” says Prof. Stephen McCarthy, the Center’s co-director and a faculty member in the Plastics Engineering Department. (Read the entire M2D2 press release.)

“We are assisting TheraTorr with the optimization of materials, component design and refinement of production methods,” says plastics engineering Asst. Prof. Stephen Johnston, who is involved in the mattress project.

A Nationwide Problem

According to a 2004 survey of nursing homes across the country by the National Center for Health Statistics, of the 1.5 million nursing home residents at the time, about 159,000 ߞ; or 11 percent ߞ; had bed sores.

“Too much pressure on the tissue reduces blood circulation,” says David Bertoni, CEO of TheraTorr. “The condition is aggravated by uncontrolled heat and humidity as well as friction and shearing at the contact points. The tissue eventually develops ulcers, which can lead to infections, tissue death or gangrene.”

Bertoni says TheraTorr’s innovative therapeutic mattress redistributes the patient’s weight more efficiently and can conform to irregularities in the body’s contour better than the existing medical mattresses, significantly reducing pressure on the most vulnerable “hot spots” and bony protrusions.

He says patients who have reduced levels of mobility, especially seniors with poor nutrition, diabetes or circulatory problems, are at the greatest risk of acquiring pressure ulcers.

“Patients with severe physical limitations, such as soldiers with battlefield injuries and long-term-care patients immobilized by spinal cord injury, or those with compromised tissue due to burns or skin-graft surgery, would benefit greatly from our pressure-redistribution support-surface technology,” he says.

Miniature Air Cells Are the Key

“The most important component of our smart mattress design are the ‘sensor cells,’ which are basically vertically oriented air chambers,” says TheraTorr’s Tim Moutafis, the mattress’s inventor. “There will be about 1,000 of these cells in a typical mattress surface. There will even be a climate-control system to adjust the heat and humidity appropriately.”

“Our plan is to come up with a hospital-size working prototype of the bed to demonstrate at trade shows,” says Bertoni.

Adds Moutafis: “We envision the mattress to have an active control system to adjust the bed in four sections for the most precise cradling of the patient’s body.”

He says the bed can create a “digitized surface” to track key patient parameters such as pressure, temperature, positioning and movement. Based on the tracking data from the sensor cells, the mattress can recognize certain patient movements that could lead to high-risk situations such as falls.

“The mattress can automatically make pressure and positional adjustments to avert patient injury,” says Moutafis. “A pulsating digitized surface can improve blood flow and promote healing by producing massage-like cycling action.”

For more information, visit TheraTorr’s website.

Plastics engineering graduate student Randin Ralston works with TheraTorr’s Tim Moutafis in fabricating a sensor cell for the smart mattress.
From left: Randin Ralston, Tim Moutafis and David Bertoni of TheraTorr Medical Inc., Prof. Stephen McCarthy of M2D2 and plastics engineering Asst. Prof. Stephen Johnston.