Researchers have developed a smartphone app called BiliCam
that can detect jaundice in babies and can deliver the results to parents and
pediatricians within minutes.
Jaundice is a common condition in
babies less than a week old. Skin that turns yellow can be a sure sign that a
newborn is jaundiced and isn't adequately eliminating the chemical bilirubin.
However, that discolouration is sometimes hard to see, and severe jaundice left
untreated can harm a baby.
The new app, developed by the University
engineers and physicians, could serve as a screening tool to
determine whether a baby needs a blood test - the gold standard for detecting
high levels of bilirubin. "Virtually every baby gets jaundiced, and we're
sending them home from the hospital even before bilirubin levels reach their
peak," said James Taylor, a UW professor of pediatrics and medical
director of the newborn nursery at UW Medical Center.
"This smartphone test is
really for babies in the first few days after they go home. A parent or health
care provider can get an accurate picture of bilirubin to bridge the gap after
leaving the hospital," Taylor said. The app uses the smartphone's camera
and flash and a colour calibration card.
A parent or health care
professional needs to download the app, place the card on her baby's belly, and
then take a picture with the card in view. The card calibrates and accounts for
different lighting conditions and skin tones. Data from the photo are sent to
the cloud and are analysed by machine-learning algorithms, and a report on the
newborn's bilirubin levels is sent almost instantly to the parent's
"The app is easy to use and
affordable for both clinicians and parents, especially during the first several
days after birth when it's crucial to check for jaundice. A noninvasive
jaundice screening tool is available in some hospitals, but the instrument
costs several thousand dollars and isn't feasible for home use," researchers