An app a day

No Bleeding Required

Would you rather snap a photo of your fingernails or prick your finger for a blood test?

Researchers have developed a smartphone app that can detect anemia. Instead of a blood test, the app uses photos of a person’s fingernails taken on a smartphone to determine whether the level of hemoglobin in their blood seems low. 

“This paradigm may replace common blood-based laboratory tests using only an app and patient-sourced photos,” says principal investigator Wilbur Lam, a researcher and pediatric hematologist at Emory, Georgia Tech, and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “Our on-demand system would enable anyone with a smartphone to download an app and immediately detect anemia anywhere and anytime.” Anemia affects 2 billion people worldwide and can lead to fatigue, paleness, and cardiac distress.

The app is part of the PhD work of former biomedical engineering graduate student Rob Mannino, who was motivated to conduct the research by his own experience living with beta-thalassemia, an inherited blood disorder.  

For now, researchers say, the app should be used for screening, not clinical diagnosis. Melissa Young, assistant professor of global health at Rollins School of Public Health, is focusing on its potential within refugee communities, as anemia affects 40 percent of all refugees. The app could also help patients with chronic anemia manage their disease and be used to screen for anemia in pregnant women or runners/athletes. 

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