Terahertz Spectroscopy to Improve Burn Injury Assessment

Aditi Kaveti ‘23

Figure 1: The frequency of terahertz radiation, 1012 Hz, is inversely related to the size of its wavelength. The wavelength is similar in size to the hair follicle and sweat gland structures that terahertz imaging identifies.

Burn injuries are painful, potentially life-threatening, and can often require long and complex treatment. Early and accurate assessment of burn injuries is important to determining the correct path of treatment. However, the severity of burns can be difficult to visually diagnose accurately, and clinical evaluations of burns only have about a 50 to 70 percent accuracy. This complexity allows for a significant uncertainty in patient care that can lead to an improper and potentially dangerous healing process. 

Dr. Hassan Arbab, an associate professor at Stony Brook University, has been studying terahertz spectral imaging, an imaging modality that can be used to quantitatively determine burn severity. On the electromagnetic spectrum, terahertz lies between microwave radiation and infrared radiation. It is a safe, non-ionizing radiation that can be used to identify structures normally present in the skin, such as hair follicles and sweat glands. In terahertz diagnostic images, a milder burn would display more of these structures and have a better healing progression than its deeper and more severe counterpart. 

Dr. Arbab and his team have developed a handheld terahertz instrument to obtain diagnostic images for large animal burns with varying severities. To test their device, they created multiple 1 inch diameter burns in 3 anesthetized female domestic pigs. The team performed daily terahertz scans for each burn during the first week, and continued with weekly scans until the predicted healing outcome. They measured the mean and standard deviation of spectral amplitude, which indicates variations in water content, and spectral slope, which suggests changes in density of skin structure. The researchers found that their handheld terahertz scanner was very effective at differentiating between different burn severities and evaluating burn progression, consistently boasting a diagnosis accuracy of 90 percent or better. The terahertz imaging modality has profound implications in the biomedical field, allowing for improvement in the accuracy of burn injuries, wound healing outcomes, and the overall recovery of patients.

Works Cited: 

[1] M. H. Arbab, et al. 120 terahertz spectral imaging for burn depth determination in an in vivo porcine scald model. Journal of Burn Care & Research 41, S80–S81(2020).doi:10.1093/jbcr/iraa024.123

[2] Image retrieved from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thz_freq_in_EM_spectrum.png

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