While Dasia Taylor, 17, is waiting on college admissions results, she’s also applying for a patent for her invention: color-changing stitches that help detect surgical infections.
You could say that her passion for medical and racial equity and doing good for others is… infectious.
Taylor started developing the project in October 2019, inspired by her chemistry teacher, Carolyn Walling, discussing science fairs in class.
She then read about “smart” stitches coated with conductive materials. These stitches are able to sense the status of a wound simply by monitoring changes in electrical resistance. The information is then reported to the smartphones or computers of patients and doctors.
Taylor is a passionate advocate for racial equity, and immediately thought of gaps in proper access to this kind of technology, especially in developing countries where internet and mobile technology is lacking. Eleven percent of surgical wounds develop an infection in low- and middle-income countries, according to the World Health Organization, compared to between 2 and 4 percent of surgeries in the United States.
Taylor then set out to create stitches that would help patients and doctors easily identify surgical infections, without the need for technology.
The goal is to help people seek medical care as soon as possible if there is an infection, when intervention has the most impact. During development, Taylor had in-mind mothers who experience infections after Cesarean sections.
The young inventor experimented with many different colors and dyes for her invention, and she found that beets served as the perfect shade for the suture thread.
The thread changes from bright red to a dark purple color when a surgical wound becomes infected. Taylor juiced about 18 dozens of beets in the last 18 months for the project, finding that not only was the vibrant color of the root vegetable helpful, but the PH-level is ideal as well.
Taylor elaborated on why beets were a perfect fit for the color-changing stitches:
“Beets are a natural indicator and they change at the pivotal moment of eight and nine. Well, our skin is naturally acidic, having a PH of five, so when our wounds are infected they climb to a PH of nine.”
The teen started to collect awards at regional science fairs for her invention, eventually advancing to the national-level stage.
Taylor has now been named one of the 40 finalists in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, the country’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors.
Further testing needs to be done, so Taylor has connected with microbiologist Theresa Ho at the University of Iowa to coordinate a research plan incorporating proper techniques for her project, as studying bacteria requires specific and sterile practices. Their work is on-going.
The high schooler hopes to attend Howard University after graduation, and eventually pursue a career in law after studying political science.