How a selfie of your eyelid could alert doctors that you’re anemic

woman taking selfie

Photo by Adrian Sava on Unsplash

11/29/2017 |

A smartphone selfie could one day alert your doctor that you’re anemic.

A Purdue University-led team of researchers is developing the anemia-detection application for mobile devices, which uses a photo of the inner eyelid to accurately measure levels of hemoglobin in the person’s blood. 

The team has now received $75,000 from the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute to evaluate the technology’s use in people with cancer.

“More than half the patients undergoing cancer treatment are likely to become anemic at some point in time,” says Young Kim, associate professor with the Purdue Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, who developed the technology with Md Munirul Haque, research scientist with the Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering in Purdue’s Discovery Park. “The device we are developing has the potential to allow for earlier anemia detection, and it’s noninvasive, which is especially important for cancer patients who have greater sensitivities to needles as well as co-morbidities that cause problems with vein access.”

Anemia, a condition in which patients do not have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues, is prevalent among cancer patients and likely related to the cancer itself, chemotherapy, radiation or blood loss. The Purdue researchers aim to make detecting this condition easier and more convenient with their sHEA (smartphone-based bloodless spectrometerless HEemoglobin Analyzer) app.

Using an algorithm, the app translates color data from a smartphone image of the inner eyelid into virtual hyperspectral images. The images include detailed color information necessary to accurately measure levels of hemoglobin in the blood. 

The funding from Indiana CTSI — a statewide collaboration of Indiana University, Purdue and the University of Notre Dame — will allow Purdue researchers to team up with Dr. Attaya Suvannasankha, assistant professor of hematology and oncology at the Indiana University School of Medicine, to introduce the technology to 144 cancer patients already undergoing treatment at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis.

Researchers will also test the sHEA technology in early 2018 with a large patient pool at the Kenya, East Africa-based AMPATH laboratory. Funding for that study comes from a National Institutes of Health Fogarty International Center grant aimed at improving mobile anemia testing in resource-limited settings where the condition is prevalent.

“Although the patient pool here in the U.S. will be smaller than the one in Kenya, the Indiana CTSI award will allow us to focus on personalized healthcare monitoring in longitudinal fashion,” Haque says. “This study will be synergic to our Kenya study and allow us to evaluate and compare the performance of sHEA in diverse ethnic settings.”

Writer: Jeanine Parsch,