App detects signs of anemia via a smartphone snap of the eyelid

A team of scientists has developed software that could make diagnoses of blood disorders much more straightforward, using a smartphone camera to assess levels of hemoglobin. This protein in red blood cells can be used as a marker for conditions like anemia or kidney injuries, and by analyzing it via smartphone, the team hopes to offer a less invasive method that could be put to use in developing areas.

The research team was led by Purdue University’s Young Kim, with its technology based on a newly developed algorithm that can bed fed low-resolution smartphone photos and turn them into high-resolution digital spectral signals. A separate algorithm then analyzes those signals to tally up hemoglobin.

“The idea is to get a spectrum of colors using a simple photo,” explains Sang Mok Park. “Even if we had several photos with very similar redness, we can’t clearly see the difference. A spectrum gives us multiple data points, which increases chances of finding meaningful information highly correlated to blood hemoglobin level.”

The team is adapting the software to function as a simple smartphone app, which it says won’t require additional hardware. The camera can simply be used to take a photo of a person’s inner eyelid, which doctor’s routinely assess to gauge redness in anemia patients, with the onboard software then handling the rest.

“This technology won’t replace a conventional blood test, but it gives a comparable hemoglobin count right away and is noninvasive and real-time,” says Kim, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Purdue. “Depending on the hospital setting, it can take a few hours to get results from a blood test. Some situations also may require multiple blood tests, which lead to more blood loss.”

The team’s software was tested alongside blood tests and performed at a comparable level when measuring a range of blood hemoglobin values. It follows in the footsteps of similarly innovative approaches currently under development, including an app that measures hemoglobin in the finger using the phone’s flash, and another that does so through the fingernails.

While the software currently requires a separate computer to operate, the researchers expect it could be incorporated into an app without too much trouble. This portable solution could prove highly valuable in developing countries and not just by detecting anemia, but other conditions tied to hemoglobin levels in the blood.

“Our new mobile health approach paves the way for bedside or remote testing of blood hemoglobin levels for detecting anemia, acute kidney injury and hemorrhages, or for assessing blood disorders such as sickle cell anemia.” says Kim.

The research was published in the journal Optica, while a video describing the technology can be seen below.

Spectroscopic analysis with a smartphone app to help assess anemia

Source: Purdue University, The Optical Society

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