College of Health and Human Services
George Mason University
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George Mason University

Nursing Professor Receives Grant to Study Bruise Visibility Using Unique Paintball Method

September 29, 2016

Katherine Scafide measures bruise visibility using alternate light sources.

If you want to explore what impact skin color has on bruise appearance, how do you find bruises to study? If you’re Katherine Scafide, you get out the paintball gun.

Scafide, a leading forensic nurse and assistant professor in the School of Nursing, is known as the “paintball lady” for her unique method of creating bruises in her research to measure bruise visibility, how alternate light sources can help identify bruises, and how skin color, fat, and gender impact changes in bruise color.

“In my clinical experience, I would see victims of sexual assault or intimate partner violence. But if the victim had darker skin color, it was often difficult, if not impossible, to see any injury. I’ll never forget one patient, a woman who had been assaulted. She reported being bitten on her back, but I could not see anything due to the darkness of her skin,” Scafide said. “We have to do better. Being able to accurately measure bruising and to enhance bruise visibility aids forensic investigations and can help lead to criminal prosecution.”

Scafide was recently awarded a two-year, $449,437 grant from the National Institute of Justice for her study, “Analysis of Alternate Light in the Detection and Visibility of Cutaneous Bruises.” Her research project will examine bruise visibility on six skin colors using both white and alternate light sources (short narrowband visible and long ultraviolet spectrums). This technology has the potential for improving the detection and visibility of bruises on a wide range of victims.

“This technology may also help victims from vulnerable populations. Children and individuals with cognitive challenges are at risk for abuse and cannot always tell a practitioner where they are injured,” Scafide explained.

In a randomized, controlled trial, Scafide will create bruises on study participant’s upper and lower arm using a controlled application of a paintball pellet and dropped weight. According to Scafide, paintball was selected because of its consistency and familiarity, and research has demonstrated paintball’s performance as a method of trauma induction.

“There is limited research on whether using alternate light sources can enhance bruise visibility. This study will help further our understanding of how alternate light sources impact bruise visibility,” Scafide said. “Our results have the potential to influence the forensics, health care, and criminal justice fields in both policy and practice.”

Scafide will collaborate on this project with colleagues at Texas A&M University Health Science Center and Georgia State University.