There is An App that Can Detect Early Signs of Eye Disease in Toddlers, in Just A Flash

It is not an easy task to perform a thorough eye exam on an infant.  Of course, this might seem obvious if you know young ones tend to wiggle around somewhat uncontrollably (and unpredictably).  This makes it difficult to get a steady look into their eyes. 

Fortunately, there is a new smart phone app that might help take away some of the burden, particularly since it takes advantage of behavior that is already likely happening. This new mobile app uses your smartphone’s camera (and flash) to determine if a child is developing a serious eye disease; which could, in turn, prevent the devastating loss of vision, particularly at such an early age. 

It all started five years ago when scientist Bryan Shaw wanted to find a better way to detect eye cancer.  You see, his son, Noah, was diagnosed with retinoblastoma at the very young age of 4 months.  In order to make this diagnosis, doctors shined a bright light into the infant’s eye to find a pale reflection at the back of the eyeball. This, they said, is an indication of tumors.  

Being a scientist, Noah wondered if it was possible to see this same pale reflection in, perhaps, photos of his son where they used a flash.  His wife had taken many pictures of the baby, of course, and upon further inspection he did see this reflection or glow—which doctors call “white eye”—in a picture his wife took just after the child was born. 

In fact, Shaw says, “We had white eye showing up in pictures at 12 days old.”

Now, Shaw is not a medical or computer scientist (in fact, he is a chemist) but he decided to see if he could develop an app that would use a smartphone’s camera and flash to aid in this diagnosis. He notes that if such software would have been available—that, at least, could have suggested they see a specialist—they might have been able to intervene before the tumors were too big and numerous to stop.  

Of course, in many medical mysteries we often need one patient to inspire the initial inquiry. In this case, then, Shaw’s son Noah is that beacon for other children who can now receive their diagnosis early enough to save them.  

Shaw reports, “On average the app detected white eye in pictures collected 1.3 years before diagnosis.”

And in case you are curious, the app was developed in partnership with colleagues at Baylor University in Waco, TX. The app is called CRADLE.  

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