When Samuel Gan, Principal Investigator at A*STAR’s Bioinformatics Institute (BII), met a clinician friend a couple of years ago at a Disability Tech Symposium in Sydney, Australia, he was presented with a thought-provoking question: is there a better way to monitor the healing of pressure wounds in patients with spinal cord injury?
Currently, clinicians need to physically measure the size of a wound, but because the lesions often have irregular shapes, estimating the progress of healing can be tricky. To further complicate matters, touching a wound with a ruler or measuring tape might lead to infection.
Gan and his research group members Weiling Wu and Kenneth Yong took the lead to develop a mobile phone app that allows users to estimate wound size simply by taking a photograph of the wound. The app is compatible with both Android and Apple smartphones, making it highly accessible for wound monitoring.
Fundamentally, the app relies on algorithms that distinguish the wound region from normal skin based on colors. “Wounds are usually red to dark brown in color, and our skin monitoring app uses that to automatically determine the wound borders,” Gan explained. To ensure that wound area measurements are not affected by the distance at which the picture was taken, or the camera resolution, the researchers photographed a coin together with the wound.
“The coin serves as a standard in terms of pixel numbers, allowing for an accurate estimation of wound size. Since the ratio of the pixel to the area of the coin is automatically recalculated in every image, the wound estimation would be independent of whether the picture is taken up close or from a distance, and unaffected by the resolution of the smartphone camera, which affects pixel number,” he said.
The app can also store previous image measurements, helping users to view the wound size over time. “This not only empowers patients to care for themselves, but also helps clinicians who rely on patient accounts for more accurate information gathering on wound healing.”
Gan’s team has signed a memorandum of understanding with Schülke & Mayr, an international hygiene company, and their clinical partners, to validate the app for tracking wounds in clinical settings. Meanwhile, Gan is already thinking about ways to improve the app. For example, as the modern world moves towards a cashless society, the use of coins to calibrate area calculations may not be feasible, he noted.
The A*STAR-affiliated researchers contributing to this research are from the Bioinformatics Institute (BII). The initial development of the app was funded under the ‘Wound Care in the Tropics’ program of the Skin Research Institute of Singapore (SRIS), A*STAR.