Blood from an individual with Iron-Deficiency Anemia. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
A prominent Atlanta-based biomedical engineer and hematologist worked with a local graduate student to develop an app that uses photos of a person’s fingernails to detect the symptoms of anemia without a blood test.
In layman’s terms, the app works by comparing the shade of an individual’s fingernail bed to the color of the fingernail beds in individuals with known hemoglobin levels. If the app matches the color of a person’s bed to a person known to be anemic, it triggers an alert, according to Emory materials.
Wilbur Lam, principle investigator on the project, is an associate professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine, a faculty member in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory, and a clinical hematologist at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, according to Emory materials.
The app is part of the PhD work of former biomedical engineering graduate student Rob Mannino who was motivated by his own experience dealing with an blood disorder called beta-thalassemia, Emory materials indicate. Treatment for the disease requires monthly blood transfusions, which are inconvenient, uncomfortable and time consuming – Mannino wanted to find a better way.
“This whole project couldn’t have been done by anyone but Rob,” Lam said in a statement. “He took pictures of himself before and after transfusions as his hemoglobin levels were changing, which enabled him to constantly refine and tweak his technology on himself in a very efficient manner. So essentially, he was his own perfect initial test subject with each iteration of the app.”
Mannino and Lam say that their app could help patients with chronic anemia self-monitor without having to test their blood, adjusting their therapy schedules and reduce the complications of having transfusions too early or too late, Emory reports; However, they say that the app should be used for screening, not a clinical diagnosis.
Their research was supported by the National Science Foundation, and the results were published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.