Imaging human skin autograft integration with optical coherence tomography

Quant Imaging Med Surg. 2021 Feb;11(2):784-796. doi: 10.21037/qims-20-750.


Background: Skin autografting is a common clinical procedure for reconstructive surgery. Despite its widespread use, very few studies have been conducted to non-invasively evaluate and monitor the vascular and structural features of skin grafts. This study, therefore, aims to demonstrate the potential of optical coherence tomography (OCT) alongside OCT-based angiography (OCTA) to non-invasively image and monitor human skin graft health and integration over time.

Methods: An in-house-built clinical prototype OCT system was used to acquire OCT/OCTA images from patients who underwent split-thickness skin graft surgery following severe burn damage to the skin. The OCT imaging was carried out at multiple locations over multiple time points with a field of view of ~9 mm × 9 mm and a penetration depth of ~1.5 mm. In addition to obtaining high-resolution qualitative images, we also quantitatively measured and compared specific structural and vascular parameters, such as identifiable layer thickness and corresponding vascular area density and diameter.

Results: Two patients (patient #1 and #2) were enrolled for this preliminary study. Vascular and structural features were successfully imaged and measured in the graft tissue and integration layer immediately beneath at different time points. Revascularization, healing, and integration were monitored with patient-specific details. Results of the quantitative image analysis from patient #1 indicated that integration layer thickness 16-day post-surgery was significantly less (~50%) than that of 7-day post-surgery. Additionally, with patient #2, significant growth (~20%) was seen with the vascular area density of both the graft and corresponding integration layer beneath between 6 and 14 days post-surgery.

Conclusions: Our preliminary studies show that OCT/OCTA has clinical potential to image and measure numerous features of human skin graft health and integration in the days and weeks following split-thickness surgery. For the first time, we demonstrate the applicability of non-invasive imaging technology for novel clinical uses that could eventually aid in the betterment of surgical practices and clinical outcomes.

Keywords: Optical coherence tomography angiography (OCTA); integration; split-thickness skin graft; structure; vasculature.