Selfies can now diagnose cancer

This selfie could save your life.

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a smartphone app that could diagnose pancreatic cancer by snapping a user’s self portrait.

The BiliScreen works by analyzing the amount of yellow discoloration in the whites of the eyes, which is a sign of bilirubin build up in the blood, a.k.a. jaundice, before it can be seen by the naked eye.

Jaundice, often seen as a discoloration of the skin in infants, is a tell-tale symptom of pancreatic cancer – which has a five-year survival rate of just 9 percent because it often goes undetected until it reaches an advanced stage – as well as a sign of diseases like hepatitis and liver damage from alcoholism. And while different skin colors can make jaundice difficult to spot, changes to the whites of the eye (or the sclera) can be seen consistently across all races and ethnicities.

So doctors, computer scientists and electrical engineers, building on previous work out of the UW’s Ubiquitous Computing Lab, created the BiliScreen. The user puts on paper glasses printed with color squares to help calibrate color, and a box accessory over that, which blocks out ambient lighting. Then he snaps a selfie of his eyes with his smartphone camera, and the app runs the color of the sclera into a color descriptor, which then translates the how white the whites are into an estimate of the bilirubin levels.

The new diagnostic tool correctly identified “cases of concern” in just under 90 percent of the 70 subjects in its initial clinical study, compared to the blood test currently used by doctors to measure bilirubin levels.

“This relatively small initial study shows the technology has promise,” wrote co-author Dr. Jim Taylor, a professor in the UW Medicine Department of Pediatrics, whose father died of pancreatic cancer.

“Pancreatic cancer is a terrible disease with no effective screening right now,” he added. “Our goal is to have more people who are unfortunate…

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