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New device helps diabetics with wounds (3-2-99)

A new wound measuring device may cut down on a serious complication--amputations--in diabetics. The Three-Dimensional Laser Imaging System for Measuring Wound Geometry, or Wound Imager, invented by a team of scientists at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is changing how physicians monitor threatening wounds.

For diabetics, a tiny wound can turn into a huge one in no time because of poor blood circulation. Before the laser, keeping close tabs on the wound proved to be challenging because there were no accurate measuring methods.

The laser measures wounds more accurately than other standard methods. "It's non-contact and it takes no more than a few seconds to scan the wound with the laser," says co-inventor Leon Bunegin, associate professor, Department of Anesthesiology. "The laser is not only faster but it provides a more reproducible measurement of the wound."

Nicholas Villarreal is one diabetic patient who has benefited from the Wound Imager. He is 47 years old and has been a participant in the experimental protocol of the laser measuring device. Recently, a small injury in his left foot turned into a massive one almost overnight. "I felt my leg getting bigger and the pain was excruciating," says Villarreal.

Prior to the laser, Villarreal had his wounds measured with a ruler or underwent "casting," which involves putting a gel-like substance into the wound, allowing physicians to get an idea of the depth of the wound. It is an uncomfortable procedure but the only option to determine if treatments were healing the wound.

"With the laser imager, I can get accurate measurements of Mr. Villarreal's wounds daily and those measurements can help me determine if the current hyperbaric chamber treatment is working. Also, when I see a rapid healing rate through the measurements, I can then look into more conventional wound care techniques," says Dr. Adrianne Smith, assistant professor, Department of Surgery. "The best news is it's not expensive nor does the patient experience any pain."

The idea for the laser imager of wounds has been around for a decade, but it took shape when Bunegin and co-inventor William Rogers, instructor of rehabilitation medicine, came together and figured out a way to apply the technology.

"The system is technically a structured lighting system. The laser projects a plane of light and that light intersects a surface, the wound, producing a line. By viewing the line at an angle, we can determine the position of the line space, and by measuring the position of a number of lines, we can then reconstruct the shape of the wound," says Rogers.

The laser is not on the market, but Bunegin and Rogers expect it to be available in the next few years.

Contact: Myong Covert