A new smartphone application has demonstrated 89.7% accuracy in identifying cases of concern for potential pancreatic cancer. The results come from an initial clinical study of 70 individuals.

The ‘BiliScreen’ app uses a smartphone camera; by taking a picture of the user’s eyes it can calculate the color formation of the sclera and correlates it to the correct bilirubin level. Raised bilirubin levels can identify jaundice, one of the first symptoms of pancreatic cancer. The goal of the app is to detect raised bilirubin levels before they’re visible to the naked eye. The app was developed by researchers at the University of Washington.

The availability of an app that quickly detects signs of jaundice for those at-risk could have a significant impact as the low survival rate associated with pancreatic cancer is often the result of delayed treatment. 

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“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,” said lead author Alex Mariakakis.

For the app to work through different lighting conditions, the user either needs to place the smartphone in a custom box or wear paper glasses printed with colored squares. The box lets in just the right amount of light while the glasses help calibrate color. In the initial clinical study, the researchers found that those using the box had slightly better results. Currently, blood tests to measure bilirubin levels are not routinely carried out in adults unless there is significant reason for concern.

The research team indicated that they now aim to conduct tests on a greater number of subjects and to make improvements including removing the need for the box and glasses. 

“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,” said Dr. Jim Taylor, co-author of the study. 

For more information visit Washington.edu