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Smartphone app checks for jaundice in newborn babies

A screening method that quantifies the yellowness of the eye could lead to earlier identification and treatment of jaundice

Baby looking at iphone
Dr Christabel Enweronu-Laryea, University of Ghana

Researchers from University College London have developed a new screening method to identify jaundice in newborn babies using a smartphone app.

The study, which is published in PLOS One, involved taking smartphone pictures of the eyes of 37 infants. 

The babies selected for the study had all been referred for tests to measure levels of bilirubin in the blood; a substance which causes jaundice when it accumulates in the body.

The images were then processed to remove distorting effects of background light and the yellowness of the eye was quantified to predict the level of bilirubin in the blood.

The smartphone app successfully identified all cases of jaundice that would usually be treated.

It also identified cases that would not normally require treatment 60% of the time. This success rate is comparable to expensive hand-held devices recommended for use by midwives in the UK.

Felix Outlaw, from University College London’s medical physics and biomedical engineering department, highlighted that the new screening method would only require a smartphone and is a tenth of the cost of commercial devices used in the UK.

“Given that smartphones are common even in poor and remote parts of the world, being able to use them to screen for jaundice would have a significant impact,” he emphasised.