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Saving face: UTHSCSA technology improves recovery for burn victims

Technology developed by researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA) could potentially save thousands of burn victims from undergoing an arduous step in their recovery. Called Facescan©, the new innovation is used to create transparent facemasks for patients with severe burns.

"We are the only place in Texas that has this laser imaging technology," said Bill Rogers, a UTHSCSA instructor and creator of Facescan©. "Only three or four other places in the country are using laser imaging to develop masks."

The technology uses a laser-imaging machine to take precise, and painless, measurements of a burn victim's face. The Facescan© computer software makes a three-dimensional replica of the patient. The replica is then used to mold the transparent facemask.

The facemasks are standard treatment for patients with severely burned skin. They are used to smooth scar tissue and prevent raised scars from forming. But patients typically have to go through a "casting" process that takes hours and is extremely uncomfortable. "Patients usually have to breathe through straws placed in their nostrils. Because they have a hard time breathing, the masks often come out distorted," Rogers said. Clinicians typically have to recast about 86 percent of the masks.

Not only does Facescan© offer more precise measurements, it takes about half the time to develop the masks. Technicians also can alter the dimensions in the computer to aggressively target specific areas of scarring.

Rogers said he wanted to develop technology that was inexpensive and easy to use. "It only takes about half an hour to train a clinician on the software," Rogers said. "I hope every burn center in the country eventually has one."

Rogers is collaborating with therapists from the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research at Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio. He began using the system to develop masks last November.

Contact: Amanda Gallagher or Aileen Salinas