Anyone who thinks that selfies aren’t good for anything needs to check out the BiliScreen app, which employs computer vision technology to allow users to take photos of their own eyes in order to detect early signs of cancer.
BiliScreen, developed by researchers at the University of Washington, looks for elevated levels of bilirubin in the whites of peoples’ eyes, according to Geek.com. Abnormally high bilirubin is a telltale sign of jaundice, a condition that manifests itself in the form of yellow discoloration of the eyes and skin. Jaundice, in turn, can represent an early symptom of pancreatic cancer.
In this manner, BiliScreen can serve an early-warning system for the disease.
“The problem with pancreatic cancer is that by the time you’re symptomatic, it’s frequently too late,” said lead scientist Alex Mariakakis, a doctoral student at the University of Washington’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, in a statement. “The hope is that if people can do this simple test once a month—in the privacy of their own homes—some might catch the disease early enough to undergo treatment that could save their lives.”
BiliScreen uses the camera and flash in a smartphone to capture images of a person’s eye. A computer vision system isolates the white parts of the eye and then processes color information from the sclera, i.e. the white outer layer of the eyeball.
The researchers report that the app delivers accurate diagnoses at a higher rate than conventional screening methods. BiliScreen correctly identified concerning cases 89.7 percent of the time, according to the University of Washington.
One of BiliScreen’s main advantages is its ease and non-invasiveness compared to current methods of screening. Doctors currently need to use a blood test to check for signs of pancreatic cancer. Because of the difficulty in administering this blood test, is usefulness is limited. In contrast, BilliScreen is available to everyone who has a smartphone.
“Pancreatic cancer is a terrible disease with no effective screening right now,” said University of Washington professor Jim Taylor. “Our goal is to have more people who are unfortunate enough to get pancreatic cancer to be fortunate enough to catch it in time to have surgery that gives them a better chance of survival.”
Pancreatic cancer is a relatively rare form of cancer, accounting for only about 3 percent of cancer cases and 7 percent of cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society. About 53,670 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2017—and approximately 43,090 people will die of the disease this year.
Tyler Schulze is vice president, strategy & development at Veritone. He serves as general manager for developer partnerships, cognitive engine ecosystem, and media ingestion for the Veritone platform. Learn more about our platform and join the Veritone developer ecosystem today.