Intermountain Health and Picterus AS partner to study new technology for jaundice screening for newborns

MURRAY, Utah (ABC4 Utah) – Intermountain Health and Picterus AS, a Norwegian health technology company, have entered a partnership to study a new smartphone-based application that can estimate bilirubin levels in newborn babies using the smartphone’s camera.

This new technology is exciting for health providers. More than 33,000 babies are born in Intermountain hospitals and tested for hyperbilirubinemia each year. Three of five newborns will experience jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin because of increased bilirubin levels in the body. Left untreated, severe jaundice can cause brain damage or hearing loss.

Intermountain Health tests every baby born in their facilities at least once for jaundice with many babies requiring repeat blood draws both while in the facility and once sent home. They will be testing the new app and technology to evaluate its accuracy in measuring bilirubin in babies, without having to draw blood with a prick, as is now done.

Researchers say the goals of the study are to find inexpensive, bloodless, painless, and a no labs required way to measure bilirubin levels in babies. If proven accurate, this technology will eventually enable parents and families to manage hyperbilirubinemia at home without the cost and inconvenience of taking babies to the clinic and to the lab.

The app and technology include a laminated calibration card that is placed on the chest of the baby. About six pictures are taken of the card and the baby, automatically loaded onto a server, evaluated, and then sent back to the phone with measurements.

“This technology is exciting to us because it makes it possible to measure the bilirubin in a baby without taking blood. Right now, the only way to measure bilirubin levels in babies is to take them to a laboratory and draw blood,” said Tim Bahr, MD, an Intermountain Health neonatologist, who is leading the study. “By having this technology available on a smartphone, we will eventually empower parents to make these measurements without having to leave their homes with an easily accessible and affordable tool.”

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

Intermountain researchers will study the app on about 300 term babies at Intermountain Utah Valley Hospital in Provo, Intermountain McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden, and Intermountain Medical Center in Murray.

Babies in the study will have their bilirubin measured with the new technology, as well as regular measurements (blood draws). About 150 of these babies will have a second measurement within two to five says after discharge when jaundice typically peaks. Additionally, 100 babies born pre-term babies will also be measured with the new technology.

“We are very excited see the potential impact our tool could have on infant care in the United States. We are looking forward to ongoing collaboration and further development.” said Tormod Thomsen, chief executive officer of Picterus AS.

“Bilirubin and jaundice management has long been based in the hospital and the clinic,” said Dr. Bahr. “Taking a newborn to the clinic or laboratory for frequent blood tests in the first days of life can be a huge inconvenience and burden on families. We hope to simplify this care and move more of it into the home. This is a win for families and for our healthcare system.”

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