App to make jaundice screening easier

 
By Dorothy Hagmajer • Published: February 16th, 2015
Category: Health in a Heartbeat
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We love our smartphones almost as much as the apps we download onto them. You have your social media apps, your music apps, your games … and a little something for jaundice screening.

Wait. What?

The phrase, “There’s an app for everything” is becoming less of an exaggeration, and more of a 21st century truth. A team from the University of Washington is in the process of finalizing an app designed to make it easier for doctors and parents alike to monitor newborns for signs of jaundice, a condition that can cause brain damage if left untreated.

Jaundice occurs when a baby’s blood has high bilirubin levels. Bilirubin is a substance created when the body replaces old red blood cells, and is normally broken down by the liver — a slow process in newborns. In excess, bilirubin can cause your baby’s skin and eyes to look slightly yellow in color. The word “slightly” is key … a baby with jaundice won’t suddenly resemble a lemon.

Because of the symptoms’ subtlety, it’s hard to tell if a baby has jaundice without actually taking a blood test. The app, called BiliCam, uses a color calibration card that accounts for differences in lighting and skin tone and the smartphone’s flash camera to take a picture. Key data from the picture is analyzed by algorithms in the cloud, and a report of the levels of bilirubin is sent to the smartphone.

Depending on the results, the parent or doctor can decide if he or she wishes to go ahead with the blood test.

In a clinical study of 100 newborns and their families, BiliCam proved to be as accurate as the current screening tool. The app’s team expects that BiliCam will replace the current screening technology within a year, and, within two, gain FDA approval, allowing parents to use it at home. Patents are already pending.