IE's Juan Wachs leads burn treatment collaboration, team awarded $1.9M grant from DoD.

Author: Dave Montgomery
Investigators from Purdue's School of Industrial Engineering, Department of Computer Science, and Department of Statistics are working with experts from both the US Army Burn Center and the Fairbanks Burn Center in Indianapolis to develop an automated burn diagnosis system using AI that will diagnose and treat burn victims with superhuman performance.

The project, AutoMated BUrn Diagnostic System for Healthcare (AMBUSH), is led by Juan Wachs, professor of industrial engineering at Purdue University and adjunct professor of surgery at the Indiana University School of Medicine, along with Yexiang Xue, assistant professor of computer science, Charles Bouman, Showalter Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Biomedical Engineering, Lingsong Zhang, associate professor of statistics, Anders Carlsson of the US Army Institute of Surgical Research (ISR), as well as Dr. Gayle Gordillo and Mohamed El Masry from the IU School of Medicine.

Each member of the team brings expertise in at least one of the related fields of computer vision, artificial intelligence, burn/trauma intensive care and emergency/prehospital medicine.

The group's research was presented at the Military Health System Research Symposium (MHSRS) by computer science graduate student, Max Jacobson, the main student working on this project. The team was recently awarded a $1.9 million grant from the Department of Defense to further the research, along with a $380k grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH).

Segmentation and labelling tool.

Ultrasound examples.

Burn assessment is currently based on appearance, blanching to pressure, sensation to pin prick and bleeding on needle prick.  These methods lead to classification of injury according to depth, along with the percentage of total body surface area (%TBSA) affected, and are key to determining the optimal treatment for the burn patient.

Depth classification can be challenging, and even with experienced burn experts there can be variability in assessments. Variability in assessments is even greater with non-burn specialists, who serve as the first point of contact with medical personnel.  The AMBUSH system aims to deliver a super-human level of accuracy of over 95% in uncontrolled conditions. The system will perform an interactive process for burn injuries triage in real-time with an operation time of less than 5 seconds per injury.

Assessing burn injury via ultrasound has limitations and challenges. Wachs states "currently ultrasound is being used for burn degree and conversion prognostics, but 'how' to read and make sense of ultrasound images is still a challenging problem." Dr. Gordillo points out that the use of ultrasound for assessing burn injuries is not like your typical ultrasound of the human anatomy, so the use of AI is helpful. "It's not showing you anatomy... as a doctor, I can look at the anatomy and put it together, but this doesn't show you anatomy and so you would never be able to piece together the significance of those images without this kind of tool."

According to Wachs there is a particular need for this technology in the battlefield. "Burn diagnosis is often needed in the battlefield, and paradoxically there is where we have fewer experts available.. Even expert diagnosis is at best 75% accurate in terms of the diagnosis at the Point of Injury. That’s where an expert decision making system based on AI with super-human performance can make a difference." 

In addition to use in the battlefield this has the potential for use in urgent care centers. Currently there are only two American Burn Association verified burn centers in the state of Indiana, both located in the Indianapolis area. Having this technology at urgent care centers would benefit burn victims in areas that don't have burn experts on site. Physicians at these types of facilities can utilize this technology to make better determinations regarding a patient's wounds, with more confidence. 

The AMBUSH system will enable medics to perform triage and provide initial care in a prompt guided manner, leading to improved patient prognosis and increased survival rates of service members with critical injuries caused by burns in combat. Because it uses ultrasound technology capable of connecting to a smartphone it has the benefit of being lightweight, which is critical for use in the battlefield.  Gordillo states "being nimble, light and easy to interpret for a medical corpsman, maybe a 19 year old kid... that always has to be kept in mind."


The MHSRS is the Department of Defense’s foremost scientific meeting. It provides a venue for presenting new scientific knowledge resulting from military-unique research and development. The MHSRS is the premier military or civilian meeting that focuses specifically on the unique medical needs of the Warfighter.

The MHSRS provides a collaborative setting for the exchange of information between military providers with deployment experience, research and academic scientists, international partners, and industry on research and related health care initiatives falling under the topic areas of Combat Casualty Care, Military Operational Medicine, Clinical and Rehabilitative Medicine, Medical Simulation and Information Sciences, Military Infectious Diseases, and the Radiation Health Effects.

Related links: