Anemia-detection app helps track blood hemoglobin from fingertips

Medical results are based on coloration of fingernail bed; using quick and pain-free mobile app based screening

which could benefit a vast number of people who are affected by anemia around the world.

Biomedical engineers led by Dr Wilbur Lam from Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University have developed this smartphone app.

Anemia is a condition caused by a low red-blood-cell count or a low level of the protein hemoglobin in red blood cells. The iron in hemoglobin carries oxygen to fuel the many processes of metabolism that occur throughout our bodies.

Anemia takes many forms, from a mild condition that can be improved by dietary changes, to chronic anemia, that requires vigilant monitoring and possibly transfusions of blood for a lifetime.

Anemia affects a quarter of the world’s population, causing symptoms from pale coloration, fatigue, and listlessness, to more severe outcomes, including life-threatening heart failure.

People who are chronically anemic require frequent hemoglobin-level testing to monitor their disease and to guide their clinical treatment.

The gold-standard test to measure hemoglobin is a complete blood count, based on a blood draw performed by trained technicians and processed in a laboratory using expensive equipment and reagents.

Despite the high prevalence of anemia, there has been no noninvasive, inexpensive, and accurate hemoglobin assessment technology available that enables chronic anemia patients to better self-manage their disease.

Physicians are taught in medical schools that anemia can lead to certain body parts being paler than others, such as the lips, right below the whites of the eyes, the creases on palms, and finger nails.

Fingernail beds contain minimal amounts of melanin compared to other parts of the skin, allowing the method to be adopted by people with any skin tone.

There are two ways to use the new app, either for screening the general population, or for diagnosis in people who are chronically anemic.

“The app can learn and weigh its data towards the person’s blood counts,” Lam said. “Theoretically, the app would weigh the individual’s data higher, and therefore, re calibrate, which will further increase the app’s accuracy in estimating blood hemoglobin levels.”

The study so far has validated the smartphone imaging of fingernail beds as a tool that would be effective for screening.

More testing is required for it to be adopted and approved for making individual diagnoses

The team is planning to make the app publicly available in the coming months, and they will continue to conduct individual calibration studies to confirm the high level of diagnostic accuracy that would be necessary to use the smartphone app in place of blood-based anemia testing.

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