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A Smartphone App to Help With Anemia Detection - By : Luis Felipe Gerlein Reyes,

A Smartphone App to Help With Anemia Detection


Luis Felipe Gerlein Reyes
Luis Felipe Gerlein Reyes Author profile
Luis Felipe Gerlein R. is a Ph.D. candidate at ÉTS. His research interests include nanofabrication and characterization of optoelectronic devices based on lead chalcogenides, carbon-based nanostructures and perovskite materials.

Header image from a Video source. Standard YouTube License.

 

Day by bay, smartphones are becoming part of our lives in ways that were part of dreams only 20 years ago. The first ones, at the turn of the year 2000 allowed to send text messages, watch your email and browse Internet. Eventually cameras, GPS sensors and accelerometers gave these devices a whole plethora of applications in daily activities.

One field that greatly benefited from these improvements is health. Nowadays, any smartphone can help you track the distance you walk, how many steps and how fast you did it.  There are numerous accessories that interface with smartphone to help monitoring functions like heart rate, sugar and oxygen levels.

The next step is to bring the functionality of these gadgets directly into the smartphone to extend even more its capabilities. This is what a team at the University of Washington aims to do. They developed an app that allows the smartphone to be an anemia detector. Their motivation mainly comes from the fact that in many developing countries, early detection strategies are not available or are too expensive for the general public. Anemia is a condition that affects around 25% of population worldwide and in specific population groups such as preschool-age children, it is present in at least 45%.

Age-standardised disability-adjusted life year (DALY) rates from Iron-deficiency anaemia by country (per 100,000 inhabitants). WHO 2004.

Given the widespread use of the smartphone, even in developing countries, it is only natural to include functionalities for diagnostic directly into them.  The way the app works is by illuminating the phone’s flash against the skin and the colour of the illuminated area provides information about the hemoglobin concentration (level of red blood cells) for an accurate detection.  Actually, it is as accurate as an FDA-approved expensive device dedicated to this specific task doing the same diagnostic.

There is a caveat though. To achieve high level of accuracy, the researchers found out that it was necessary to attach an extra LED light source to the phone’s flash lamp to increase the contrast in the image. Luckily, this attachment keeps costs down for as LED sources are very cheap and easy to get.

So far, this app called HemaApp allows early detection and gives the patient a solid warning to go to the doctor for further checking. As a doctor, a quick way to screen large populations for a condition will save lots of time and medical resources in areas where these are not a commodity.

The team tried three different testing scenarios, using the smartphone’s flash lamp only, adding an external incandescent bulb and with the LED-lamp attachment fixed to the testing cellphone. Interestingly, the LED-lamp attachment makes use of illumination wavelengths beyond the range of a regular flash found on cellphones. Certain wavelengths are better absorbed by the bloodstream and allow better detection process.

In the initial tests, HemaApp detected 86% of cases with low hemoglobin levels when using the extra LED-lamp and 79% of those without it. Again, it may not completely diagnose anemia, but it successfully filters patients that will require further testing from those who doesn’t. With results just as good as the commercial device found in the market but just at a fraction of the price for the LED-lamp attachment and the app development, HemaApp promises to be a success for non-invasive early detection and screening for health practitioners all over the globe.

The details about the detection mechanism and its implementation can be found at this source.

Luis Felipe Gerlein Reyes

Author's profile

Luis Felipe Gerlein R. is a Ph.D. candidate at ÉTS. His research interests include nanofabrication and characterization of optoelectronic devices based on lead chalcogenides, carbon-based nanostructures and perovskite materials.

Program : Electrical Engineering 

Research chair : Canada Research Chair in Printed Hybrid Optoelectronic Materials and Devices 

Author profile


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