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A new mobile app can detect anemia without a blood test

A new mobile app can detect anemia without a blood test

A new smartphone app can tell if you have anemia just by analyzing the color of your fingernail in a photo.

Anemia, a common blood disorder brought on by reduced levels of the blood’s oxygen carrier, Haemoglobin, causes severe fatigue, heart problems, and complications in pregnancy. It already affects more than 2 billion people worldwide; global anemia prevalence is reportedly at 29 percent in pregnant women, 38 percent in non-pregnant women, and 43 percent in children.

Diagnosing anemia requires blood samples, as well as specialized testing equipment that’s largely inaccessible to low-income societies, where the disorder is highly prevalent.

For instance, measurement of hemoglobin levels requires blood sampling by a trained phlebotomist, a clinical hematology analyzer along with an electrical power source, a set of biochemical reagents, and trained laboratory technicians to perform the analysis.

Now, thanks to a team of researchers from Georgia Tech and Emory University in Atlanta, USA, the disorder can be detected just using a smartphone app. The team relied on previous studies that proved anemia could be effectively detected by analyzing the pale appearance (pallor) of some parts of either the nails, palm or tongue. The authors noted in their paper published in the science journal Nature Communications:

Here, we leverage this observation that pallor is associated with anemia to develop a method that quantitatively analyzes pallor in patient-sourced photos using image analysis algorithms to enable a noninvasive, accurate quantitative smartphone app for detecting anemia

The app works based on an algorithm created by Wilbur Lam and his team at Emory University, and detects anemia by assessing the concentration of hemoglobin from the color of people’s fingernail beds, using photos taken on a smartphone.

The fingernail color is a good indicator of the blood’s hemoglobin levels because our nails don’t contain any dark pigment-producing cells that would mask the telling hue.

Credit: Wilbur A. Lam et al.