A study led by University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH) and University College London (UCL) has suggested a smartphone app that enables users to screen for jaundice in newborns.

According to the study, published in PLOS One, the app allows users to detect jaundice in newborn babies by taking a picture of the eye. This screening method quantifies the yellowness of the eye to determine the condition.

It is claimed to be as effective as costly screening devices recommended for use in the UK.

Commenting on the app, senior author of the paper Terence Leung said: “Our smartphone-based method provides a more robust assessment, ensuring serious cases do not go unnoticed. While we await the evidence of a larger trial, we believe that this method, used as an app, could help to prevent the deaths of newborn babies due to severe jaundice worldwide.”

Jaundice is a condition caused by the accumulation of a substance called bilirubin in the body. In extreme cases, a neurotoxic form of bilirubin can enter the brain.

It may lead to death, and disabilities such as hearing loss, neurological conditions including athetoid cerebral palsy, and developmental delays.

The study analysed the smartphone pictures of the eyes of 37 newborn babies referred for blood tests at UCLH. Predictions using the smartphone were then compared to the results of the blood tests.

The method has allegedly identified all cases where treatment would ordinarily be required, while able to identify cases that would not need treatment 60% of the time.

Compared to transcutaneous bilirubinometers used by midwives in the UK to detect jaundice, the rate is reportedly a success.