In Brief

An app from the University of Washington can help users screen for pancreatic cancer and other diseases by measuring bilirubin levels through a selfie

Researchers from the University of Washington have developed an app that can help people screen for pancreatic cancer (which has a low survival rate in part because of the lack of early screening tools) and other diseases by simply taking a selfie. BiliScreen uses a smartphone camera, computer vision algorithms and machine learning to detect when a user has increased bilirubin levels.

Buildup of bilirubin leads to jaundice (a yellowing of the eyes and skin), one of the earliest symptoms of pancreatic cancer and other diseases. The ability to detect an elevated bilirubin level before it becomes visible could help at-risk individuals seek treatment earlier. In early clinical study of 70 patients, the BiliScreen app correctly identified cases of concern 89.7% of time (compared to standard blood tests).

The blood test currently used to measure bilirubin is not typically administered unless there is cause for concern. It also requires a doctor’s visit, which makes frequent screenings inconvenient. BiliScreen, on the other hand, can be administered at home and often to alert patients to when it’s time to schedule a doctor’s appointment. For patients with pancreatic cancer, it could also potentially make monitoring bilirubin levels much easier.

BiliScreen uses a smartphone’s camera and flash to collect pictures of a user’s eyes. A computer vision system isolates the white parts of the eye, then calculates color information from the sclera and correlates it with bilirubin levels. To help calibrate lighting conditions, the researchers used a 3D printed box and paper glasses printed with colored squares as accessories. The team plans to continue testing the app on a wider range of patients, as well as improving the usability of the app (by removing the need for extraneous accessories).

“Pancreatic cancer is a terrible disease with no effective screening right now,” said Dr. Jim Taylor, professor in the UW Medicine Department of Pediatric and co-author of the paper presenting BiliScreen. “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.”

BiliScreen

Researchers from the University of Washington have developed an app that can help people screen for pancreatic cancer (which has a low survival rate in part because of the lack of early screening tools) and other diseases by simply taking a selfie. BiliScreen uses a smartphone camera, computer vision algorithms and machine learning to detect when a user has increased bilirubin levels.

Buildup of bilirubin leads to jaundice (a yellowing of the eyes and skin), one of the earliest symptoms of pancreatic cancer and other diseases. The ability to detect an elevated bilirubin level before it becomes visible could help at-risk individuals seek treatment earlier. In early clinical study of 70 patients, the BiliScreen app correctly identified cases of concern 89.7% of time (compared to standard blood tests).