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Medicine and wellbeing

Transforming outcomes for young burns victims

High-speed imaging is helping thousands of children every year .

Dozens of children in the UK receive a serious burn or scald every day and are rushed to hospital emergency departments, where burns specialists assess their injuries and decide on treatment, which may include skin grafts and surgery.

Laser doppler imaging (LDI) is a vital tool in this assessment. By measuring blood flow beneath the burn wound, LDI allows doctors to accurately assess the extent of the injury. Deeper and severe burns require skin grafts and surgery, which may lead to scarring and prolonged and painful recovery, whereas less severe cases can heal without such intervention.

Medical technology pioneers at the University of Nottingham have equipped doctors across the world with smaller, faster LDI scanners, which help ease the suffering of thousands of young burns victims every year. They are scanned at the bedside in seconds, minimising the need for additional sedation or prolonged exposure of the wound.

The devices are saving the NHS and health providers across the world millions of pounds by cutting the cost of repeated scans, and many millions more by helping to identify cases where surgery is not necessary, which in turn reduces hospital stays and shortens rehabilitation.

Professor Steve Morgan, of the Optics and Photonics Group (OPG) at Nottingham,who led the research alongside Professor Barrie Hayes-Gill, Professor John Crowe and Dr Yiqun Zhu, takes up the story.

"LDI has been recognised as a key tool in burns assessment for a number of years and the UK’s Moor Instruments is a global leader in the field. However, LDI typically uses single-point imaging and requires the patient to remain still for three minutes to get a clear image. That’s a big task for any burns victim, especially for a small child in distress."
Professor Steve Morgan

“Moor approached us to help develop a high-speed scanning device and the project won funding from Innovate UK.

“We’ve worked with Moor to replace single-point imaging with an array of laser lights scanned across the tissue surface. Our advances in sensing and the processing of an array of signals, and in developing new, faster and more dynamic camera chips, means we can capture an image in 3 to 4 seconds.”

An independent clinical trial found the Moor LDLS-BI device had a 94.6% accuracy for predicting the potential for healing of burn wounds by allowing doctors to ‘see’ beyond the skin surface.

Andrew Holland, Professor of Paediatric Surgery at The University of Sydney School of Medicine and the Children’s Hospital at Westmead Clinical School, Australia, said: “We use the moorLDLS for paediatric patients approximately 10 times every month. We have found the scanners very useful in prioritising patients for surgery and planning their elective procedures. I am committed to improving the care of burn and other traumatic injuries in children and the moorLDLS has been crucial in helping me deliver on this promise.”

This lightweight, portable device is now commercially available and is used every day in paediatric burns units, easing suffering and improving outcomes for about 5,000 children a year. The rapid scanning of the moorLDLS has made LDI scanning more accessible to children. This imaging supports better decision-making about skin grafting and is estimated to save healthcare providers globally around £6m per year.

Professor Morgan added: “It’s immensely gratifying that our collaboration with Moor Instruments has resulted in these scanners being used in burns units in the UK and across the world.”

Dr Rodney Gush of Moor Instruments said: “The University of Nottingham is a world-leader in translating sensing and imaging research into clinical practice. Our partnership underlines that continual innovation lies at the heart of advances in healthcare.”

Professor Steve Morgan

Steve Morgan is Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, and Co-Director of the Centre for Healthcare Technologies. He was awarded the University’s Vice-Chancellor’s Medal in 2020 in recognition of his transformative research, including the burns assessment device. 

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