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Smartphone app checks for jaundice in newborn babies

A smartphone app allows users to check for jaundice in newborn babies simply by taking a picture of the eye can now be an efficient, low-cost way to screen for the condition, according to a pilot study led by UCL and UCLH. Jaundice is a condition where the skin and whites of the eyes turn yellow. This causes 114,000 newborn deaths and 178,000 cases of disability a year worldwide, despite being a treatable condition. Three quarters of deaths are in south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

In the study, smartphone pictures were taken of the eyes of 37 newborn babies at UCLH who had been referred for blood tests. These images were processed to remove the distorting effects of background light and the yellowness of the eye quantified to predict the level of bilirubin in the blood. These predictions were then compared to the results of the blood tests. The method successfully identified all cases where treatment would normally be required, while identifying cases that would not require treatment 60% of the time.

This new screening method would only require a smartphone and is a tenth of the cost of commercial devices used in the UK.

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