“I classify my research as where equity meets science. The people who are really going to need [smart sutures] will not be able to afford them. So, I decided to make something cost-effective.”
Dasia Taylor’s portrait in the Fearless Portrait Project consists of an ink drawing on a map of Iowa. Her hometown of Iowa City is located on the right side, where her neck meets her shoulder.
When 17-year-old Dasia Taylor heard about smart sutures—which use electrical currents and smart phone connections to monitor wound infections—she was intrigued, but she also saw a problem: the people who would need these the most would have the lowest access to them.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 2-4% of sutured wounds become infected in the US. That number rises to 10-20% in some developing countries, where digital access also drops.
Taylor saw an opportunity to bring equity to this situation and set to work developing a low-tech solution to improving health outcomes. And she wasn’t going to let something like not having participated in a science fair since first grade hold her back. She began researching the problem of wound infection with her chemistry teacher at Iowa City West High School in the fall of 2019.
While healthy human skin has an acidic pH of about 5, infected skin reaches pH 9. After juicing dozens of beets, Taylor discovered beet juice changes color from red to purple at the same pH level as infected skin.
After experimenting with different threads, Taylor found a cotton/polyester blend worked the best. When treated with the beet dye, the thread would change color in five minutes when in the presence of an infection.
The goal of this color-changing thread is for patients to self-monitor themselves and know when to seek medical attention.
She began entering her work into science fairs and quickly began racking up prizes, even becoming a finalist in the Regeneron Science Talent Search. The annual talent search is one of the most prestigious science contests for high school students.
Taylor says she’s patenting her invention and looking to set up lab space to continue her research before starting college, where she plans to study political science and become a lawyer.
“I have to continue my research. These stitches literally will revolutionize wound treatment in developing countries,” she says. “I'm definitely not stopping until my stitches get to those who need them.”
This episode contains music by Geovane Bruno and Anton Vlasov.
- Firozi, P. (2021, April 1). A high-schooler wanted infection-detecting sutures to be more accessible. She used beets. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/04/01/high-schooler-wanted-infection-detecting-sutures-be-more-accessible-she-used-beets/
- Inside Edition. (2021, April 1). An Iowa High School Student Invented a Cost-Effective Way to Detect Infections in Surgical Patients. https://www.insideedition.com/an-iowa-high-school-student-invented-a-cost-effective-way-to-detect-infections-in-surgical-patients
- Kantor, W. G. (2021, May 14). Iowa Teen Inspired by Grey’s Anatomy Invents Stitches That Change Color When Wound Is Infected. PEOPLE.Com. https://people.com/human-interest/iowa-teen-inspired-by-greys-anatomy-invents-stitches-that-change-color-when-infected/
- Krupa, A. C. H. A. M. (2021, April 17). A student harnessed the power of beets to make healing from surgery safer -- and more equitable. CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2021/04/17/us/student-beets-color-changing-sutures-wellness-trnd/index.html
- Local 4 News WHBF. (2021, February 18). In Our Community | Dasia Taylor. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ercvAKNrSVk
- Machemer, T. (2021, March 25). This High Schooler Invented Color-Changing Sutures to Detect Infection. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/high-schooler-invented-color-changing-sutures-detect-infection-180977345/
- Muzdakis, M. (2021, April 6). High School Senior Creates Color Changing Surgical Sutures That Alert Infection. My Modern Met. https://mymodernmet.com/dasia-taylor-beet-surgical-sutures/
- Schilke, R. (2021, February 1). West High senior Dasia Taylor recognized as Regeneron Science Talent Search Finalist. The Daily Iowan. https://dailyiowan.com/2021/01/31/west-high-senior-dasia-taylor-recognized-as-regeneron-science-talent-search-finalist/
- Spencer, C. (2021, March 30). Black Teen, Dasia Taylor, is the inventor of a method to detect surgical infections. Black Enterprise. https://www.blackenterprise.com/black-teen-dasia-taylor-is-the-inventor-of-a-method-to-detect-surgical-infections/
- The Ellen Degeneres Show. (2021, April 26). Astounding Teen Inventor Is Changing the Medical Field. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZILJSMFd3s