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December 27, 2018

Instead of a blood test, researchers developed an app on your phone to detect anemia

A quick picture of your fingernails should be able to detect hemoglobin levels

These days it seems as though there are few things our smartphones can’t do. Heck, they can even measure things now.

And now researchers at Georgia Tech have developed a smartphone app that uses a photo of someone’s fingernails, rather than blood samples, to determine the level of hemoglobin in their blood. This is a non-invasive way to test for anemia — a condition in which you don't have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body's tissues, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The app is projected to be available commercially for public download as soon as spring of 2019.

Anemia, which affects two billion people worldwide, can lead to fatigue, paleness and cardiac distress if left untreated. For now, the best test for anemia is a complete blood count (CBC), Futurity reports.

RELATED READ: The key for low-income populations to lose weight? An app, this study suggests

Futurity reported:

The researchers studied fingernail photos and correlated the color of the fingernail beds with hemoglobin levels measured by CBC in 337 people: some healthy, and others with a variety of anemia diagnoses. The algorithm for converting fingernail color to blood hemoglobin level was developed with 237 of these subjects and then tested on 100.

The researchers were able to show that a single smartphone image, without personalized calibration, can measure hemoglobin level with an accuracy of 2.4 grams/deciliter with a sensitivity of up to 97 percent.

Rob Mannino, a recent graduate in biomedical engineering, is the first author of a paper in Nature Communications describing the app. Mannino was motivated to conduct the research by his own experience living with beta-thalassemia, an inherited blood disorder caused by a mutation in the beta-globin gene.

Mannino’s disease requires monthly blood transfusions and, ideally, more frequent testing of his hemoglobin levels. However, Mannino finds it hard to get to the hospital for additional blood tests between transfusions, making this app an extremely helpful tool in his treatment.

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