Saving Burn Victims' Pain and Lives
NASA's air and spacecraft flaw-detecting technology now saving
the lives and suffering of burn victims.
Each year about two million Americans suffer serious burns. A
large number of them require hospital treatment and 10,000-12,000
die from their injuries. Among those hospitalized, some 70,000
people require intensive care, and the cost of such treatment runs
several 100 million dollars a year. The application of NASA
ultrasound technology, originally developed to detect microscopic
flaws in aircraft and spacecraft materials, has provided an
advanced diagnostic instrument that makes it possible to
immediately assess burn damage-knowledge that permits improved
patient treatment and may even save lives in serious burn cases.
The Supra Scanner is the first clinically tested, commercially
available product of its kind. It also helps diagnose other skin
conditions and disorders, including cancer.
The depth of a burn is the critical factor in the diagnosis and
treatment of second and third degree burns. The most common
treatment is to allow the natural sloughing of burn-caused dead
tissue, and then to close the resulting wounds with skin grafts.
Effective treatment, therefore, depends upon early recognition of
the extent of dead tissue and its removal, by chemical or surgical
means, to minimize risk of infection and speed healing. The key is
accurate information about the depth of the burn. Previous methods
to assess bulk depth were subjective and, thus, prone to error.
Dr. Anthony Marmarou of the Medical College of Virginia uses
the Supra Scanner to measure the depth of a patient's burn, a key
factor in diagnosis and treatment.
THE SUPRA SCANNER
To meet the need for precise determination of burn depth, a
prototype instrument was developed capable of determining the level
where burned tissue ends and healthy tissue begins. This is
possible because, when skin is burned, a protein (collagen) that
makes up approximately 40 percent of skin becomes more dense. The
technique behind the Supra Scanner involves directing ultrasonic
waves at the burned area. The difference in density between damaged
and healthy tissue causes sound waves to reflect at the point of
HOW IT WORKS
The Supra Scanner was granted Food and Drug Administration
approval in December 1990. The instrument uses the NASA depth
measurement technology by combining a scanning transducer and
computer in a single instrument that may be used at a patient's
bedside. The patented system produces high resolution color images
of human tissue, generates cross-sectional images of the skin and
provides information regarding skin surface and subsurface
The Supra Scanner contains several exclusive technical features
such as activation by voice, a display range of 256 colors, and the
NASA depth measurement technology. The standard ability of the
Scanner is to "see" up to 37 millimeters (1.48 inches) beneath the
surface of the skin. With an upgrade, this ability increases 60
millimeters (2.4 inches).
SIMPLE TO USE
In operation, the transducer is placed on the ailing or injured
skin area. The scan obtained is transferred to the monitor screen
where it is read by doctors or medical technicians. The instrument
then prints a copy of the scan for documentation and referral
Here are Westminster chairman Jack Canwell (left) and William
Gregory, president of Westminster Technology Group, Inc., producer
of the Supra Scanner.
The Supra Scanner has additional applicability in diagnosis of
skin cancer and other skin disorders, plastic surgery and diagnosis
of lymphatic disorders.
TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER PROCESS
This new health care product is the result of Langley's
Technology Utilization (TU) Program. In 1983, Langley initiated an
applications engineering project through its TU Program that would
meet the need to determine burn depths. This process used NASA
expertise to redesign and re-engineer existing technology that
detected flaws in air and space craft materials.
The Langley project was spearheaded by Dr. John H. Cantrell and
Dr. William P. Yost, both physicists in Langley's Nondestructive
Measurement Science Branch, which conducts research on ultrasonic
and other techniques for evaluating quality and fatigue of
aerospace materials. Other organizations cooperating on the project
include Medical College of Virginia (MCV), Richmond, Va.; the
University of Aberdeen, Scotland; and the NASA Technology
Applications Team, Research Triangle Institute (RTI), North
Carolina, which coordinated the project and directed the
commercialization of the technology.
The benefits to mankind from aerospace technology are becoming
more and more commonplace - thanks to scientists involved in NASA
research programs and private companies that transfer aeronautics
and space technology into products and services for everyday
- CORRELATES TISSUE STRUCTURE
- MEASURES: SKIN THICKNESS, WOUNDS, BURNS, PRE-CANCEROUS LESIONS,
CANCEROUS CELLS, PATHOLOGICAL SKIN CONDITIONS
The Supra Scanner presently has three models:
- A cart-mounted unit for hospitals and clinics
- A lap-top size for doctor's offices, nursing homes, and home
- A desk-top model to be carried in a shoulder bag for emergency
and home use
One of the Congressionally mandated responsibilities of NASA is to
promote economic and productivity benefits to the Nation by
encouraging the transfer of aerospace-generated technology to the
public domain. NASA meets this objective through its Technology
Utilization Program, which provides the link between the developers
of aerospace technology and those either in the public or private
sectors who might be able to productively employ the technology.
This is a high-frequency Ultrasound Supra Scanner for the
diagnosis of skin conditions and disorders. It provides quick,
accurate information to help doctors make better decisions and save
A Technology Utilization applications engineering project is
considered successful when the technology developed under the
project is used or is manufactured for the market. The Supra
Scanner is one of these successes.
For more information, check out NASA Langley's Technology