Smart Fabric

It’s not always about new discoveries – it is figuring out how to apply existing technology in innovative ways. That is what a team from the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic are doing for compression garment technology. Through the Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics, researchers are using a material developed in partnership with NASA to redesign compression garments for clinical treatment.

Awarded funding in 2016, Brad Holschuh, Ph.D., and Lucy Dunne, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota, and Michael Joyner, M.D., and Bruce Johnson, Ph.D., are creating a compression garment that uses shape-changing materials integrated into the garment to provide controllable, on-demand compression. Originally developed for advanced space suits, these materials can be applied to address many of the issues that limit current compression garments.

Compression garments come in two primary forms: passive elastic stockings and inflation devices. Elastic stockings are static, difficult to put on, and only provide one type of compression. While the inflatable devices are more dynamic, they tend to be big, bulky, and require an inflation source. The team hopes to create a device that combines the dynamic controllability of inflatable devices with the form fit of elastic stockings.

“It would have been very difficult to assemble this team and do this kind of project without the grant because it opened up access for our two communities to come together,” says Dr. Holschuh. “I think we are leveraging each other’s strengths to undertake a research project that otherwise would not have been possible.”

The University of Minnesota’s strength in wearable technology and garment design, combined with Mayo Clinic’s expertise in clinical care and human subject testing has created a dynamic team. The researchers at the University of Minnesota have built a prototype two-stage garment that covers the thigh and calf. A second garment is in production. Researchers will come to Mayo Clinic to begin testing usability of the device.