UK doctors develop low-cost jaundice detection app to check newborns

An app developed by doctors in the UK could be a low-cost option to detect jaundice in newborn babies across the world.

The condition causes skin and whites of the eyes to turn yellow.

Although most cases in newborns are harmless, in severe cases a neurotoxic form can enter the brain, leading to death or disabilities such as hearing loss, neurological conditions such as athetoid cerebral palsy, and developmental delays.

Scientists from University College London and University College London Hospitals tested the app on the eyes of 37 newborns and processed images to remove the distorting effects of background light.

Matched against their blood test results, they say it successfully identified all cases where treatment would normally be required while identifying cases that would not require treatment 60% of the time.

“In many parts of the world, midwives and nurses rely on sight alone to assess jaundice,” said UCL’s Dr Terence Leung, senior author of the paper.

“However, this is unreliable, especially for newborns with darker skin.

“Our smartphone-based method provides a more robust assessment, ensuring serious cases do not go unnoticed.

“While we await the evidence of a larger trial, we believe that this method, used as an app, could help to prevent the deaths of newborn babies due to severe jaundice worldwide.”

The larger trial, involving 500 babies, is currently under way in Ghana.

“Our screening method would require no special equipment apart from a smartphone and is a tenth of the cost of commercial devices used in the UK,” said Felix Outlaw, first author of the research, published in the PLOS One journal.

“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.”