AI-powered app can screen for anemia with fingernail picture

An Atlanta research team has developed a smartphone app that can screen for anemia just by taking a picture of a person’s fingernails—paving the way for a new, noninvasive method to detect and diagnose the condition.

“The ability to inexpensively diagnose anemia with a high sensitivity, completely noninvasively and without the need for any external smartphone attachments or calibration equipment represents a significant improvement over current POC anemia screening,” lead author Robert G. Mannino, PhD student at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University, et al. wrote in an article published in Nature Communications.

Anemia is described as a blood condition characterized by low blood hemoglobin (Hgb) levels and affects about two billion people around the world. However, the diagnostic process for the condition can be expensive, invasive and require specific physicians and specialized equipment, researchers said.

The app uses an AI-based algorithm to estimate Hgb levels and detect anemia by analyzing color and metadata of fingernail beds from photos taken on a smartphone. To use the app, a user downloads it onto their smartphone, takes a photo of their fingernail bed and then receives their Hgb level.

Researchers analyzed the app’s performance by testing the Hgb levels in 100 patients who were either healthy or had anemia. The app identified 97 percent of the people who had the condition, according to researchers. Additionally, the app outperformed clinical hematologists while measuring Hgb levels. It achieved an area under the curve (AUC) of 0.94, while the hematologists achieved an AUC of 0.63.  

Though researchers plan to increase enrollment in the individual calibration studies to confirm the app’s diagnostic accuracy, they still believe this method shows promise in replacing current invasive methods for detecting and diagnosing anemia. They also said the “smartphone-based technique will empower patients to take control of their clinical care via self-testing of Hgb levels.”

“By eliminating external equipment, this system enables on-demand Hgb level measurement as it requires only the user’s smartphone and can be conducted in under one [minute],” Mannino et al. wrote. “Therefore, users who desire to screen themselves for anemia can do so immediately by just downloading an app without being required to wait for external equipment to be shipped to their homes, something other smartphone anemia tools require.”