Phone app detects eye disease in kids through photos

It might spot conditions before doctors do.

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Emma Kim via Getty Images
Emma Kim via Getty Images

It might soon be possible to catch eye diseases using just the phone in your pocket. Researchers have developed a CRADLE app (Computer Assisted Detector of Leukoria) for Android and iOS that uses machine learning to look for early signs of "white eye" reflections in photos, hinting at possible retinoblastoma, cataracts and other conditions. It works regardless of device, and is frequently prescient -- to the point where it can beat doctors.

Scientists tested the app with nearly 53,000 photos of 40 children, half of whom had eye diseases. Out of those, the AI system spotted 16 instances an average of 1.3 years before doctors made a diagnosis. When retinoblastoma can start migrating to the brain in as little as six months after white eye becomes visible, this could save lives or reduce the damage.

The app is useful regardless of age. As IEEE Spectrum noted, though, it works best for kids who can't always say that they have vision problems. Parents are both more likely to look for issues with their kids' eyes, frequently in the (many, many) photos they take.

The creators are quick to warn that the app isn't FDA-approved and doesn't constitute a diagnosis. Much as with the Apple Watch's ECG, you'll still want to go to a doctor to get a more definitive answer. It could give you the impetus to get to the doctor, however, and that may be enough.

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