Newborn jaundice in 0’s and 1’s: Phone app at pivotal point


September 21, 2017

Newborn jaundice in 0’s and 1’s: Phone app at pivotal point

Next test of "BiliCam" could determine whether it is approved as a medical device by the FDA

Somewhat overlooked in recent “pancreatic-cancer selfie” coverage of a UW-developed smartphone app was a study of a related app that detects jaundice in newborns.

The “BiliCam” software and its accompanying color-calibration card that sits on the baby’s chest are almost as good as the standard medical test at identifying worrisome levels of bilirubin in a baby’s blood, according to the study published in Pediatrics.

“Our main purpose here was to collect data to improve the software’s algorithm that converts a photograph to an estimate of bilirubin,” said Dr. Jim Taylor.  He’s a UW Medicine pediatrician and the medical half of the software built by Shwetak Patel of the University of Washington’s Computer Sciences and Engineering department.

The next study will aim to validate BiliCam in a new population of babies, so that it and the color-calibration card are approved as a medical device by the Food and Drug Administration. Prospectively there will be a lot of interest from pediatricians because it’s a simple solution to a common problem: 80 percent of newborns have visible jaundice but only about 8 percent require photo therapy for it.

Today a blood draw is required to suss out which babies need that therapy – and we all know how popular blood draws are for newborns and their parents.

“We’re really hoping to get this into the home so parents could use this just like they use a thermometer,” Taylor said.

Contact Brian Donohue if you'd like to interview Dr. Jim Taylor.