Aug 29, 2017 | By Benedict

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed BiliScreen, a new smartphone app and 3D printed attachment that can detect jaundice in an adult’s eye. This could in turn allow users to detect early signs of pancreatic cancer and other diseases.

You might have noticed it; you might even have used your smartphone to tweet about it: 3D printing is at the forefront of a quiet medical revolution, turning smartphones into portable diagnosis devices with a few low-cost additions and clever apps.

We’ve seen tons of them. From Kansas State’s 3D printed device for detecting anemia, to Duke University’s assay for detecting Zika and HIV, to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s TRI Analyzer for checking the health of pregnant women.

All of the above have several things in common: for starters, they are systems designed for use on everyday smartphones, taking medical diagnosis into the realm of affordability; secondly, they each use 3D printed accessories or attachments to turn smartphones into new medical tools.

The latest addition to the 3D printed smartphone diagnostics game is BiliScreen, an app and attachment developed at the University of Washington that enables users to detect signs of pancreatic cancer and other conditions.

The BiliScreen system, which builds upon the work put into BiliCam—a smartphone app that screens for jaundice in babies—uses the camera of your smartphone, coupled with computer vision algorithms and machine learning tools, to measure the bilirubin levels in an adult person’s sclera—the white part of the eye.

Jaundice, or yellowing of the sclera, is one of the earliest symptoms of pancreatic cancer, as well as other diseases, so spotting it early can sometimes be the difference between death and survival.

BiliScreen could therefore be a saving grace for millions of people at risk to such diseases. Described in a paper that will be presented at Ubicomp 2017 (the Association for Computing Machinery’s International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing), BiliScreen could bring about a new and accessible type of medical screening.

It’s not just conjecture either: the 3D printed accessory—a box that controls the eye’s exposure to light— and app were tested in a clinical study of 70 people. BiliScreen correctly identified problem cases 89.7 per cent of the time.

The system's 3D printed box blocks out ambient light, allowing the device to work in different lighting conditions. The app uses a smartphone’s camera and flash to take a picture of an eye, while computer vision tech then works to isolate the sclera and calculate color information from it. Color information is then correlated with bilirubin levels using machine learning algorithms.

“The problem with pancreatic cancer is that by the time you’re symptomatic, it’s frequently too late,” said lead author Alex Mariakakis. “The hope is that if people can do this simple test once a month—in the privacy of their own homes—some might catch the disease early enough to undergo treatment that could save their lives.”

Images: Dennis Wise/University of Washington

Doctors currently measure bilirubin levels with blood tests, which require access to a hospital environment and which are not carried out without clear indication that the testing is necessary. Since BiliScreen testing can be carried out at virtually no cost or trouble, the smartphone system is a highly convenient first step for finding out whether a patient might require further examination and treatment.

Testing for bilirubin levels by looking at the eyes could provide indications of other diseases too, including hepatitis and Gilbert’s syndrome.

“The eyes are a really interesting gateway into the body: tears can tell you how much glucose you have, sclera can tell you how much bilirubin is in your blood,” said senior author Shwetak Patel. “Our question was: Could we capture some of these changes that might lead to earlier detection with a selfie?”

And the researchers aren’t done with their work yet. Next comes the task of testing BiliScreen on a wider range of people at risk for jaundice and its underlying conditions.

“This relatively small initial study shows the technology has promise,” said co-author Dr. Jim Taylor, who lost his father to pancreatic cancer. “Pancreatic cancer is a terrible disease with no effective screening right now. Our goal is to have more people who are unfortunate enough to get pancreatic cancer to be fortunate enough to catch it in time to have surgery that gives them a better chance of survival.”

If BiliScreen helps to increase survival rates, even by a fraction, then this 3D printed device can only be a good thing.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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