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Researchers have developed a new smartphone app, that checks for jaundice in newborns and can deliver results to parents and pediatricians within minutes.

Jaundice is a common condition in newborns, in which skin turns yellow. The color change is a sure sign that a newborn is jaundiced and isn't adequately eliminating the chemical bilirubin.

But, in most cases the discoloration is sometimes hard to see, and severe jaundice left untreated can harm a baby.

The new app is developed by the University of Washington and the app could serve as a screening tool to determine whether a baby needs a blood test, the standard test for detecting high levels of bilirubin.

James Taylor, a UW professor of pediatrics and medical director of the newborn nursery at UW Medical Center said, "Virtually every baby gets jaundiced, and we're sending them home from the hospital even before bilirubin levels reach their peak."

"This smartphone test is really for babies in the first few days after they go home. A parent or health care provider can get an accurate picture of bilirubin to bridge the gap after leaving the hospital," Taylor said.

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The app named BiliCam, uses a smartphone's camera and flash and also a color calibration card.

A parent or health care professional can download the app, place the card on her baby's belly, then take a picture with the card in view. The card calibrates and accounts for different lighting conditions and skin tones.

Data from the photo are sent to the cloud and are analysed by machine-learning algorithms. Then a report on the newborn's bilirubin levels is sent almost instantly to the parent's phone.

Shwetak Patel, a UW associate professor of computer science and engineering and of electrical engineering said, "This is a way to provide peace of mind for the parents of newborns."

Moreover, a noninvasive jaundice screening tool is available in some hospitals, but the instrument costs several thousand dollars and isn't feasible for home use.

At present, doctors and parents assess jaundice by looking for the yellow color in a newborn's skin, but this visual assessment is only moderately accurate.

The UW team developed BiliCam said that the app is easy to use and affordable for both clinicians and parents, especially during the first several days after birth when it's crucial to check for jaundice.

They done a clinical study with 100 newborns and their families at UW Medical Center.

They used both, a blood test to check the bilirubin rate and BiliCam to test the babies when they were between two and five days old and found that BiliCam performed as well as or better than the current screening tool. Though it wouldn't replace a blood test, BiliCam could let parents know if they should take that next step, researchers said.

 
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