The team of researchers behind this device included biomedical engineering professors Elisabeth Papazoglou, Leonid Zubkov and DUCOM professor Michael Weingarten.
According to Weingarten, professor of surgery at the medical school, diffuse near-infrared spectroscopy is a non-invasive way of analyzing a wound to determine the proper future treatment.
“We have an epidemic of diabetics in this country … I particularly, coming to Hahnemann [Hospital] and the wound healing program sponsored by Drexel, have seen tons of diabetics over the years,” Weingarten said. “Traditionally people have big wounds, and a lot of expensive technologies are applied to them, but how do we judge that they’re working?”
Weingarten said the current way of measuring the size of an open wound is to take a ruler and measure it. This makes it a very subjective method, depending on who measures the wound and when. The size affects the treatment, he said.
The Wound Healing Society, a national organization, recently came out with a study stating that if a wound was not reduced after four weeks of therapy, the treatment was ineffective and should be changed. Weingarten said this was another reason for looking into a new method of measuring wound healing; therefore, five years ago, researchers from the medical and biomedical engineering schools teamed up to develop such a device. According to Weingarten, when infrared light is sent into the tissue, some is absorbed and some is scattered. The device registers this absorption and scattering as two coefficients.
“Initially, the hypothesis for the study was that the scattering and absorption coefficients in healing tissue change as tissue heals,” Weingarten said.
A year later, the team performed their first experiment using the infrared technology on rats. Some rats were diabetic and some were not. Wounds on different rats were studied and it was found that the infrared light in diabetic rats was different in the scattering and absorption coefficients, Weingarten said.
Next, the team studied the histology, or microscopic anatomy, of the rats by taking a sample of each wound for further analysis.
“To correlate absorption with histology, we looked at collagen concentration and blood vessel in-growth,” Weingarten said. “We could predict via near-infrared that the coefficient changes had to do with these two factors.”
Collagen concentration and blood vessel in-growth also occur in healing wounds, he said.
Based on these results, the team received approval for a human study. The team has looked at 30 diabetic wounds and showed that, using near-infrared characteristics, they could predict which wounds are healing and which are not.
Christal Alonzo, a sophomore biology major at Drexel, said the technology is amazing because it individually scrutinizes each wound beyond the surface, allowing a more accurate prediction.
“I think this is a great step towards customizing to patients’ needs by treating each case uniquely in a precise and accurate manner,” Alonzo said.
Weingarten said the collaboration between the medical school and biomedical engineering came out of Drexel’s merger with the Queen Lane campus. Professors from each school met to share ideas and came up with some research projects, including this one.
According to Weingarten, collaboration between the medical school and biomedical engineering is unique to Drexel, “a good synergy” that is not seen in other colleges.
According to a press release, the infrared device is controlled by a laptop computer, which can receive the coefficient measurements quickly. This technology also allows doctors to predict wound healing based on the treatment by about 50 percent earlier than with other methods.