Detecting Dire Diseases – with a Selfie?

They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. But with a new smartphone app, the eyes may be a diagnostic window into the body that might be used to prevent a horrible disease — pancreatic cancer. A research team at the University of Washington led by [Alex Mariakakis] recently described what they call “BiliScreen,” a smartphone app to detect pancreatic disease by imaging a patient’s eyes.

Pancreatic cancer is particularly deadly because it remains asymptomatic until it’s too late. One early symptom is jaundice, a yellow-green discoloration of the skin and the whites of the eyes as the blood pigment bilirubin accumulates in the body. By the time enough bilirubin accumulates to be visible to the naked eye, things have generally progressed to the inoperable stage. BiliScreen captures images of the eyes and uses image analysis techniques to detect jaundice long before anyone would notice. To control lighting conditions, a 3D-printed mask similar to Google’s Cardboard can be used; there’s also a pair of glasses that look like something from [Sir Elton John]’s collection that can be used to correct for ambient lighting. Results look promising so far, with BiliScreen correctly identifying elevated bilirubin levels 90% of the time, as compared to later blood tests. Their research paper has all the details (PDF link).

Tools like BiliScreen could really make a difference in the early diagnosis and prevention of diseases. For an even less intrusive way to intervene in disease processes early, we might also be able to use WiFi to passively detect Parkinson’s.

Thanks to [Patty] for the tip.

27 thoughts on “Detecting Dire Diseases – with a Selfie?

  1. The medical term to look for would be “scleral icterus” though this is more of a misnomer as it should be called “conjunctival icterus”. Note that other pathologies (besides hyperbilirubinemia) can cause yellowing of one or both eyes such as Subconjunctival hemorrhage and Leptospirosis.

      1. Even if yellowing of the eyes is caused by multiple ailments the detection by a simple non invasive test can than lead to more specific analysis through invasive techniques.

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  2. It is amazing what can be done to detect and treat diseases but what happens when we stop dying altogether by disease do we then need to kill on another to prevent over population or will we have collonised other planets by then and just keep expanding through the universe like a cancer multiplies and soreads through the body poisoning its host….

    1. What a tiresome argument. It can be made against every medical discovery, every life-prolonging drug or procedure.

      The answer is that we will probably always have some sort of problem to struggle against and solve. At some point overpopulation will be one of the bigger ones. So what? That just means we will still have something to work for and will not become passive like Eloi cattle.

      Life before technologies such as medicine and labor saving devices sucked. It was not a happier, simpler time. It was backbreaking work, hunger and disease. Some day I hope future people can look back on our time and say that same thing about us in comparison to their own lives!

      As for humanity being a cancer spreading through the universe… If we can overcome attitudes like yours and actually become a space faring species then either we will run into other sentient beings and have to either define borders or learn to live with them… or the universe is empty. Either the ‘spread’ is contained… or we are just filling a quiet, empty, lonely universe that otherwise nobody would be around to appreciate without us. Neither is a bad thing.

          1. “Might “enjoy ourselves” into a future no one likes.”

            Perhaps. So what? Should we just give up?

            Even without any further medical breakthroughs we are still on track for a population many times the size of the one we have now. To prevent the dystopia you fear we already must invent cleaner methods of living and learn to get along and eventually even spread out from our home planet. That is the challenge presented to any technological species and it is up to us to either succeed or fail.

            The alternative.. to ignore things that can help us live just to keep our population down.. That is suicide. You might as well argue to go back to the dark ages of sustenance farming and plagues caused by simple to treat bacteria. Is that your idea of living? That is what it would take to bring our population back down to a naturally sustainable level. Well.. that or WWIII.

            To those that would impede progress though in the name of keeping population down I ask… How will you feel when it is your turn to ‘make way’? Maybe you will have lived a long, full life and actually go without regret. I hope so. Even if we all could do that though… how do you feel when it is your loved one’s turn? I have lost a family member to this particular disease. I can tell you this, in his life he did a lot to make other people’s lives better. The world is not better off having back the space he vacated.

        1. Oh, yah, and abstinence? Really? It has been proven time and time again that promoting abstinence only increases pregnancy among those who are not ready for the responsibility nor sufficiently financially established. People who plan on abstinence are not prepared with birth control when nature inevitably takes it’s course.

          We are mammals. Embrace it. Trying to deny what you are or be something you are not is a terrible way to live and only leads to unhappiness.

  3. I have to say good work too the team on this one. Its not just for testing purposes, it provides a scale that people can use for their own comfort levels to overcome the self denial factor.

  4. it will now make it easier for insurance companies to deny coverage.

    you apply for insurance

    someone comes to the house and takes a picture.

    sorry no insurance for you because you are too at risk and will cost us.

    that is the whole reason why hipaa was formed is to prevent insurance companies from getting your records and denying coverage

    1. The same argument can be made about anything that detects disease or a vulnerability to a certain disease.

      Without detection you cannot treat.

      Insurance companies may be a problem but repression of detection technologies is not an answer.

      Pancreatic cancer is a great example of this. Like most cancers it is treatable in it’s early stages. Most people however have no idea that they have pancreatic cancer in the early stages. it’s mostly symptomless until you are already terminal. Therefore most people that get it die from it. Earlier detection is crucial to improving the survival rate.

      Without detection in time to viably treat what is the insurance even for anyway?

  5. God speed to this effort. Pancreatic cancer took a dear friend of mine before she was 30 and she was a damn-fine electrical engineer too.. If there is anything I can do to help this effort, please contact me.

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