Scientists have developed a smartphone app that is capable of detecting the early signs of eye disease by analyzing photos of children.
The White Eye Detector is a free app that uses machine learning to look for “white eye” reflections (called leukocoria) that could hint at cataract, retinoblastoma, and other diseases.
While the app, which is now available on Android and iOS, can be used by anyone regardless of age, it can especially help children who may not be able to communicate that they experience vision issues.
The White Eye Detector has already been tested on more than 50,000 photos donated by parents of 40 children, 20 of whom have been previously diagnosed with eye diseases. According to the study published in Science Advances on Wednesday, Oct. 2, the app was able to correctly identify white eye in 30 percent of the photos where the abnormal reflection was present.
In about 80 percent of the cases, the app spotted unusual eye color in photos taken an average of 1.3 years before the child was diagnosed with a disorder.
The White Eye Detector, the scientists reported, has detected white eye reflection in photos that do not have it about less than 1 percent of the time.
Bryan F. Shaw, an associate professor at Baylor University, was surprised that the app could detect low levels of leukocoria in photos. He told Newsweek that the app spotted even “the faintest gray” pupil from a photo that the naked human eye will not be able to notice.
Shaw shared that he was inspired to develop The White Eye Detector after his son had been diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare type of eye cancer when he was 4 months old. The child’s right eye had to be removed because of the disease. He now wants to help parents spot the early signs of retinoblastoma before it is too late.
“The app can most certainly help children from going blind,” he stated. “In the case of retinoblastoma, early diagnosis is the key to preserving vision, and life.”
Typically, when light is reflected in the retinal blood vessels and the vascular layer of the eye such as when a photograph is taken with a flash, the pupil glows red. However, for people who have retinoblastoma and other conditions, there will be a visible whiteness in the pupil.
To use the app, the parents do not have to upload photos of their children to a digital server. The White Eye Detector will scan photos already in the smartphone and tablet to look for abnormal white eye reflection.
“A parent, and their camera, are the first line of defense in screening and preventing these deaths,” added Shaw. “Every parent should have an app for leukocoria detection. So mom and dad, take lots of pictures, and if there is a problem, this app will probably catch it.”
The scientists, however, warned that the app is not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.