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A New App Can Detect A Blood Disorder From A Photo Of Your Nails
Anemia is a blood disorder and its detection can be made easier with a photo snap of one’s fingernails.
Anemia is a blood condition caused by insufficient or reduced levels of oxygen-carrying hemoglobin in the blood brought about by inadequate functioning red blood cells. It causes fatigue and general body weakness, complications in pregnancy and even heart problems such as irregular heartbeat or chest pain. This is a disease that is common as it affects one in four persons with greater than 2 billion people suffering from it. Because of barriers to its detection, most persons do not know they have the disease meaning they also do not seek treatment.
Diagnosing the disease requires blood samples, as well as specialized laboratory equipment and a host of other things, which is hitherto inaccessible to low-income societies where the disorder is on the high side. Anemia is detected in the laboratory by a Complete Blood Count (CBC) but now, an Al-powered smartphone app can detect anemia by simply analyzing the photo of a person’s fingernails.
Biomedical engineers have specially developed this non-invasive smartphone app that can detect anemia without the need for a blood test. The fingernail bed is an ideal spot on the body for this detection as there is an absence of melanin; a pigment which is present in human eyes, skin, and hair, and which gives it its color. This will also ensure that the test can be carried out on people of all skin tones.
A set of researchers from Emory University, Atlanta, USA and Georgia Tech developed the app. The team relied on previous studies which say that anemia can be detected by succinctly analyzing the pallor of some parts of the nails, tongue or palm. In a paper published in the science journal Nature Communications on Tuesday, the team explained how the app works. An algorithm was created by William Lam and his team and it detects anemia by analyzing the color of the fingernail bed of a person and correlating it to the hemoglobin level of the blood.
When the photograph is taken through the app, the app uses the image metadata which is automatically obtained from the smartphone camera and normalizes so the background lighting conditions can accurately detect the paleness of the fingernail bed.
The study was carried out with a total of 337 persons for 4 weeks. To develop the algorithm, the entire study population was split into the discovery group (237 subjects)and the testing group (100 subjects). First of all, photos of fingernail bed were gotten from 227 persons with different blood conditions who had already done a CBC Hemoglobin test. An algorithm was created that could convert the color of the fingernail bed to hemoglobin level and then this was tested on the 100 subjects. In all, it was noted that the app is an effective anemia screening and monitoring tool.
“All other ‘point-of-care’ anemia detection tools require external equipment, and represent trade-offs between invasiveness, cost, and accuracy,” said Wilbur Lam, Associate Professor from Emory University in the US. “This is a standalone app whose accuracy is on par with currently available point-of-care tests without the need to draw blood”, said Lam.
The paper said that the app is specifically for screening and not for clinical diagnosis. However, the researchers say that this app would help chronic anemic patients in the serial monitoring of their hemoglobin levels better and faster.
It will be interesting to watch how this new app will go a long way in helping to lower the rate of anemic conditions as it is known that once detected, it is fairly easy to treat. Once the app is made available to users, we will hugely appreciate its benefits. Researchers hope to release the app to the public spring 2019. If and when it does happen, detecting anemia would be just as easy as snapping a photo.