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Helping the body heal itself 

Rekindling light therapy with a multifunctional, nano-hybrid smart yarn.

Features | March 27, 2023 | By: Janet Preus

The health and wellness market has been among the first to embrace advances in smart yarns and to take advantage of the versatility of engineered textiles. Supreme Corp., a producer of high-tech textiles and electrically conductive yarn and sewing thread, has now created a revolutionary fabric called Thermoregulating Therapeutic Smart Fabric (TTSF), which it says can promote healing and enhance human performance.

Socks developed by Supreme Corp. are worn by Indian Special Forces soldiers deployed in Kashmir to alleviate pain in their feet and leg muscles. The soldiers carry a 65-pound backpack at an elevation of 19,000 feet. Photo: Supreme Corp. 

The company, based in North Carolina, recently announced a collaboration with the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA), to incorporate AFFOA’s monofilament yarn imbedded with tiny LED lights. “We are using this with our ‘upconversion nanoparticles’ in our TTS yarn to heal the body from incisions, infections, broken bones and other medical conditions,” says Matt Kolmes, Supreme’s CEO. 

The new TTS-Nano-Hybrid LED Yarn will be capable of energy harvesting to support both thermoregulation and therapeutic applications. The material can be used in base layers, socks, gloves and sleeves in various smart textile applications including medical uses and therapeutic textiles. 

But as with many breakthrough technologies, it was built on previous established practices, in this case, the use of light therapies in medical treatments. For some time, the benefits of photodynamic therapy (PDT) have been widely accepted as a treatment for dermatological conditions, including some cancers, but this has involved using an external light source. The TTS technology harvests the body’s own heat energy, converts it to light energy and reflects it back onto the body. 

Foundational change

As bacterial resistance is a problem during the process of healing of infected wounds, PDT has offered a useful treatment, due to its broad-spectral antibacterial activity and non-selective action, which makes it possible to deal with antibiotic resistance. PDT, the most common type of the photosensitizer-based therapies, was accidentally discovered in 1900 by Oscar Raab, who recognized that micro-organisms were killed when exposed to light, but not when they were kept in the dark. 

In recent years, the interest in the anti-infective effects of PDT has been revived, often proposed as a therapy for bacterial, fungal and viral infections, in which case it is described as antimicrobial PDT (aPDT), or photodynamic inactivation. Topical PDT is widely used in skin diseases, and it is also an effective method for skin rejuvenation due to the immunomodulatory and antimicrobial effects. 

Supreme’s product is also light therapy, but it doesn’t need an external energy source to activate the light. “Now they can use the energy from their body,” Supreme’s principal scientist, Dr. Rakkiyappan Chandran, says. 

“There’s an acceptance of PDT generally, but people have to buy a separate device and the reason they buy it is that in some countries they are treating skin disorders, in part, with this visible light,” Kolmes says. “You used to get it only at the hospital, but now it’s a home therapy, and it’s over the counter. We had thought of buying these lights and to sell the light with the textile, but it was trying to manage an inventory and get it to a good price. We’ve thought about other means, but Chandran said, ‘You can be the source.’ So, we started thinking about ‘upconversion,’ and that is clearly not mainstream.”

Supreme Corp. is now incorporating yarns imbedded with tiny LED lights to augment its Thermoregulating Therapeutic Smart Fabric’s capability. The yarn was developed by AFFOA. Photo: AFFOA. 

What’s different

The seminal work was done on this technique in 1992 and the two scientists that create this field of technology were given the Nobel Prize in 1996. Chandran, who is a nano scientist, studied under Dr. Michael Hamblin at Harvard Medical School, a researcher considered to be the world’s leading authority on this type of textile. Using techniques drawn from photodynamic therapy, Supreme has created a textile that has been shown to promote healing; reduce pain, swelling and inflammation; improves sleep quality; and even reduce anxiety and PTSD symptoms. 

The yarns have a “systemic biological effect on your body,” the company reports. Specifically, when worn over a period of days and weeks the company’s fabrics increase Nitric Oxide (NO) and the wearer’s heart rate variability and blood oxygen level. It has also been shown to decrease Cortisol levels in the blood. 

Nitric oxide is an important defense molecule against bacteria and infectious organisms. As Chandran’s technology prompts the body to increase nitric oxide, textile applications made from the yarn could offer an array of benefits that may also include reducing inflammationincreasing blood flow and micro circulation and enhancing the delivery of oxygen to the brain. 

How it’s done

Making the yarn involves two yarns that could be run parallel, or twisted, or Core/Shell. The first is the LED-embedded fiber, which provides the light source that stimulates the molecules with a specific wavelength. The second is treated with dye and nanoparticles forming a Nano-hybrid system. 

“There are dyes that are known to heal you, and those have been studied for years in traditional medicine,” Chandran says. “Methylene blue is a very common dye that can help heal infection, so this was the next part of the development—to add the correct dye to help heal.” 

The energy of photons emitted by the first yarn via the LED lights helps to stimulate the nanoparticles/dye hybrid system to create a light therapy mechanism process on the yarn, which could be triggered when the desired wavelength is emitted from the first yarn. 

In this process, yarn can possess and process the light therapy mechanism from both LED lights and human body heat creating a sustainable system. The dye molecule gets excited when it absorbs the desired energy from the LED light source and body heat to generate a reactive oxygen species (ROS). This emission and excitation of the yarn can be tuned based on the additives used during the process, and by controlling aspects of the nanoparticles, such as size, shape and phase.

Interestingly, there’s no specific type of yarn required to start. According to Kolmes, “We’re using every kind of yarn you can imagine. We work with all fibers—silk, wool, cotton and engineered fibers.” 

Socks developed by the Supreme are now being worn by Indian Special Forces soldiers deployed in Kashmir. As they wear a 65-pound backpack, and at an elevation of 19,000 feet, they can experience pain in their feet, lower legs and calf muscles, but have reported that with the socks they had no pain, and the socks were surprisingly warm. The socks are currently available on the market. 

In achieving the company’s goal to provide both thermoregulating and therapeutic properties, Kolmes notes, “To the best of our knowledge, we are the first to engineer a multifunctional yarn that simultaneously achieves this dual application.” 

Janet Preus is senior editor of Textile Technology Source. She can be reached at Supreme Corporation contributed material used in this article.

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