Dasia Taylor: The Inventor of Color-Changing Sutures

by Naomi Gledhill from London, United Kingdom

Dasia Taylor, a seventeen-year-old student at Iowa City West High School, Iowa, has invented color-changing sutures, to aid with the detection of infection in surgical wounds. After learning about ‘smart sutures,’ at school, Taylor’s interest in the subject was sparked, and she began her research in the October of 2019 with guidance from her chemistry teacher, Carolyn Walling.

For those who may not have heard of them previously, sutures are the thread or ‘stitches’ used to sew up a wound. ‘Smart sutures,’ according to NUS News, “incorporate a small electronic sensor that can monitor wound integrity, gastric leakage and tissue micromotions, while providing healing outcomes which are equivalent to medical-grade sutures.”[1] In layman’s terms, they detect changes in the electrical resistance of a wound, which can highlight the presence of an infection. When an infection is detected, the smart sutures send an alert via smartphone or computer.

Whilst smart sutures have proven useful in the U.S., they are not so helpful in developing countries, in which smartphones, computers or WiFi may not be anywhere near as accessible. The need for them in such countries, however, is great. Smithsonian Magazine reported that, “11% of surgical wounds develop an infection in low and middle- income countries, compared to between 2 and 4% of surgeries in the U.S., according to the World Health Organization.”[2]

Having carried out plenty of racial equity work before, Dasia Taylor recognized the need for an alternative to smart sutures in developing countries and wanted to conduct her research with this in mind. She wanted to find an alternative, which wouldn’t require a smartphone or WiFi to send and receive the alert of infection.

Hence, Taylor’s color-changing sutures came to be. How do they work? Human skin is usually acidic, resting at a pH of around 5. However, when an infection develops, the pH level of the skin increases to around 9. Taylor discovered that when the pH levels of beetroot are increased, the color changes from bright red to a much darker purple; this happens around the same pH level of an infection: around 9. This means, that there is no further technology required; the suture will simply change color.

Even more remarkable, perhaps, is the fact that this change in pH happens relatively early on in an infection, meaning that it can be caught (and therefore treated) sooner.

Taylor had to use trial and error to determine which material would be best for the actual sutures themselves and tested several different types of thread. Eventually, Taylor settled on a cotton-polyester blend that had all the attributes she required.

Whilst there are still many tests that need to be carried out before her sutures can actually be used in surgical practice (for instance, ensuring the threads would not act as a breeding ground for bacteria), it is a significant breakthrough and has even led to Taylor’s work being featured in prestigious competitions across the U.S. Taylor was amongst the 300 finalists of the Science Talent Search, put on by Society for Science. She placed 40th out of the 300.

In March 2020, Dasia Taylor also entered the Junior Sciences and Humanities Symposium hosted by the Army, Navy and Air Force. Freethink reported that she soon ‘noticed she was the only black student in the room.’[3]

At only seventeen years old, Dasia Taylor has hugely impacted the way in which infections may be detected in the future, not only in the U.S., but in countries that do not yet have access to the technology required for the existing smart sutures. We hope that Taylor’s research can continue, and that her color-changing sutures will become vital tools in detecting infection across the globe. Already, she is a hero.

[1] Smart sutures to monitor deep surgical wounds. [Online] Available

[2] Machemer, Theresa. This High Schooler Invented Color-Changing Sutures to Detect Infection. [Online] Available

[3] Zarley, B. David. These color-changing sutures can catch infections. [Online] Available

Page created on 10/31/2022 2:35:20 PM

Last edited 10/31/2022 4:27:29 PM

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Machemer, Theresa. This High Schooler Invented Color-Changing Sutures to Detect Infection. [Online] Available

Zarley, B. David. These color-changing sutures can catch infections. [Online] Available

, . Smart sutures to monitor deep surgical wounds. [Online] Available