Research & Innovation

Burn, Noticed: Stevens Team Tests New Way of Quickly Imaging Burn Victims in Hospitals

Robert Chang, a Stevens assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is collaborating with Hackensack University Medical Center's Department of Emergency Medicine to test a new method of quickly and accurately assessing burn victims' wounds.

The technology, known as hyperspectral imaging (HSI), acquires images of burns in narrow bands in the visible and near-infrared ranges of electromagnetic spectra in real time with a portable camera. HSI can detect specific reflected wavelengths indicating the presence of serious burns, and then map the shapes of those burns more precisely.

"That's important, because the treatments and response time required for the varying extent and severity of burns — superficial, partial thickness or full thickness — are each different," says Chang. "This could serve as a promising objective tool to augment human vision and judgment when assessing skin layers in the ER, helping clinicians more rapidly triage burn patients."

The camera quickly snaps hundreds of images of burned skin, each at slightly different wavelengths of light. Special software algorithms then mine the 'stacks' of resulting images, checking both for chemical signatures and physical surface features that indicate burn topography and severity. One key marker is methemoglobin — a bluish-brown variant of hemoglobin that forms when skin and blood are burned at elevated temperatures.

The HSI camera is compact enough to deploy in emergency rooms and ambulances, and the technology has proven promising in studies of animal models. Chang's team hopes to bring the imaging system to several regional clinical settings and burn centers soon for testing on patients.

"This is exciting to me personally," he says, "because it could help save lives and reduce patient morbidity associated with burn trauma."