University of Alberta: App uses artificial intelligence to track healing wounds in real time

Three U of A engineering students have developed a mobile app that tracks the progress of a healing wound.

The app calculates whether treatments are working as they should based on descriptions of size, depth and shape along with more subjective impressions of pain and irritation, says programmer Connor Povoledo.

Accurate tracking can predict infection and other complications and allow patients, particularly in remote areas, to decide whether urgent care is needed.

“Wound tracking in general is currently somewhat archaic,” says Povoledo, a third-year student in biomedical engineering, who developed the app with students Jacob Damant and Daniel Brick.

“If you put a wound in front of a doctor, who sat there and stared at it until it healed, they could give you a splendid analysis. But that’s unrealistic,” he says.

“For the most part, wound tracking ends at the hospital doors, maybe with one followup visit. Automating it seemed a no-brainer.”

The team is working on the app under biomedical engineer Robert Burrell, inventor of the silver-based Acticoat wound dressing, considered one of the most innovative advances in wound-care history.

Last fall Burrell told the students about his horse, which had suffered a leg wound on his farm. He thought it would be useful if there were a way to measure the wound in three dimensions over time to see how well it was healing.

“Many wounds are really only two-dimensional, maybe scraping off a little bit of skin,” says Burrell. “But with a deeper wound, it actually has to fill in from the bottom. The volume of the wound has to change as part of healing.”

Povoledo said he might be able to develop a program to track wounds in three dimensions and got to work designing the AI.

Burrell shared Povoledo’s proposal with fellow academics, researchers and surgeons, who all felt it had potential. The team then presented the proposal at a Montreal conference on burn wounds last December, where it was enthusiastically received.

The team continued working on the app with funding from U of A graduates and philanthropists Jim and Marlene Sorensen, refining the 3D capabilities and adding to the AI database.

The big breakthrough occurred at a conference in Phoenix in early April, where the team made a business pitch to a jury in a Shark Tank-style competition.

“The students were a bit worried because there were other companies there — startup companies and bigger companies like 3M, all trying to track wounds in various ways,” says Burrell.

But when the team took the measure of what their competitors had, it only bolstered their confidence.

“It actually made the boys quite ecstatic,” says Burrell. They faced 22 other teams in the competition, walking away with first place.

They are now increasing the size of the app’s database, enabling the AI to recognize specific types of wounds such as burns, lacerations and ulcers.

Povoledo is continuing to work on AI development, while Damant is working on 3D analysis.

Once the team has secured more funding, they hope to begin clinical trials, tracking human wounds in real time.

Burrell calls the app a “huge step forward” in wound care, since it is designed mainly for people to use at home.

“Eventually, when this app has been out there for a year, you’ll have millions of pictures in the database,” says Burrell. “You’ll be able to ask, is it a pressure sore, a diabetic ulcer, a laceration or surgical wound, and what should be measured?”

As for Burrell’s horse? The leg wound did appear to get bigger at first, says Burrell. But after applying his Acticoat dressing — now in global distribution — it healed rapidly without complications.