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Intermountain Health testing app to ease jaundice detection in newborns

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Mar 10, 2024

Adobe Stock

A newborn baby with jaundice getting ultraviolet phototherapy treatment.

Intermountain Health and Picterus AS are conducting a new study aimed at detecting bilirubin levels in newborns using smartphone technology.

The goal of the study is to find an inexpensive way to measure bilirubin levels in babies without having to draw blood.

Intermountain Health tests all newborns for jaundice before leaving the hospital. Jaundice causes yellowing of the skin and eyes because of bilirubin buildup in the blood. The condition is common. But on rare occasions it can cause brain damage and hearing loss, which is why newborns are checked for the condition.

The study, utilizing a smartphone app, will be conducted on 300 babies at Intermountain Intermountain Utah Valley Hospital in Provo, McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden and Intermountain Medical Center in Murray.

The app and technology includes a laminated calibration card placed on the baby’s chest. Approximately six photos are taken, automatically loaded onto a server and then evaluated. The measurements are then sent back to the phone.

Full-term babies will have their bilirubin measured with the new technology as well as regular blood draws. About half of the babies will have a second measurement done within two to five days after discharge when jaundice usually peaks. Another 100 premature babies also will be part of the study using the new technology. Bilirubin is a yellow pigment made during the breakdown of red blood cells. It then passes through the liver and is excreted from the body.

“This technology is exciting to us because it makes it possible to measure the bilirubin in a baby without taking blood,” said Dr. Tim Bahr, a neonatologist at Intermountain Health and lead author of the study. “Right now, the only way to measure bilirubin levels in babies is to take them to a laboratory and draw blood.”

By having this technology available on a smartphone, parents eventually will be able to take the measurements without having to leave their homes with an easily accessible and affordable tool, Bahr said.

“We do know that parents are pretty good at taking pictures of their babies,” he said.

More than 33,000 babies are born at Intermountain hospitals each year. Three out of five will test positive for jaundice, according to Intermountain Health.

Tormod Thomsen, chief executive officer of Picterus AS, said he is excited to see the potential impact the tool could have on infant care in the United States. The research company, based in Norway, is dedicated to revolutionizing neonatal jaundice care around the world.

“We are looking forward to ongoing collaboration and further development,” Thomsen said.

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