Jaundice occurs when billirubin builds up in the blood and tissues of the body. Billirubin is a natural byproduct created from the break down of red blood. Typically, the liver takes care of excess billirubin, but in new babies the process may not be fully functional. If not treated, jaundice can cause brain damage and can threaten the baby’s life. That is why parents need an effective at-home screening tool.
Testing for Jaundice
The only way to tell for sure whether a baby is jaundiced or not is a blood test. However, parents need a way to determine whether or not they should bring their babies in for a blood test. Some hospitals are using a non-invasive screening tool, but this expensive tool is not conducive for home use.
While the baby is in the hospital, medical staff can monitor billirubin levels. Yet in today’s society when babies are sent home so early, before billirubin levels have peaked, many infants struggle at home with parents who are unaware of the problem.
The University of Washington has developed a tool that uses a smartphone app and a color calibration card along with algorithms stored in the cloud to give parents a definitive answer within just a few minutes. With this app, parents can keep tabs on jaundice levels in the time between leaving the hospital and that first week appointment with the pediatrician.
How it Works
The app, which is called BilliCam, is quite simple. The parent places a color calibration card on the baby’s torso and takes a flash-assisted picture using the smartphone. The calibration card helps the app account for lighting and camera differences to measure how yellow the baby’s skin is. The algorithms then analyze the data captured by the camera to report the supposed billirubin levels for the baby. Parents can then determine if they should bring in their baby for a blood test.
Effective Screening Tool
The University of Washington team ahs tested the app in a clinical study of 100 newborns. All babies in the study went through blood testing and screening using the BilliCam when they were between the ages of two and five days old. The results showed that the BilliCam was as effective or more effective than the currently used screening tool. While it won’t replace the blood test, BilliCam gives parents the right information to ensure that they get that blood test when needed. Since the algorithms are stored in the cloud, they can be updated as needed.
The UW team believes that doctors will be using BilliCam instead of the current screening tool within the next year. Patents for the app are pending and it awaits FDA approval for home use.