pediatric doctors proudly displaying new anemia app on smartphone

Detecting Anemia with an App

A former Children’s patient has created a smartphone app that helps kids avoid blood draws.

For the millions of children with chronic anemia, a condition in which the body lacks sufficient oxygen-rich red blood cells, needle sticks and blood draws are a routine and often painful part of life.

But one former Children’s patient-turned-PhD is working with fellow biomedical engineers and researchers to change that.

Robert Mannino, PhD, has an inherited blood disorder called beta-thalassemia. To treat it, Mannino has required monthly blood transfusions and even more frequent blood tests throughout his life.  “Once a month for my entire childhood, I came to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to receive my blood transfusion,” he says.

As he began working toward his PhD at Georgia Tech, Mannino sought out a mentor in Wilbur Lam, MD, PhD, clinical hematologist-bioengineer at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

“Rob came to me and said, ‘I want to work on something directly related to my disease so I can help patients like me,’” says Dr. Lam. 

A better solution
The result of their collaboration: a smartphone app that makes anemia detection easy, non-invasive and inexpensive. Instead of a blood test, the app uses smartphone photos of someone’s fingernails to determine whether the level of hemoglobin in their blood seems low, an indication of anemia.

“This whole project couldn’t have been done by anyone but Rob,” Dr. Lam says. “He took pictures of himself before and after transfusions as his hemoglobin levels were changing, which enabled him to constantly refine and tweak his technology on himself in a very efficient manner. So essentially, he was his own perfect initial test subject with each iteration of the app.”

Mannino and Lam believe their app could facilitate self-management by patients with chronic anemia. “With this app, we have capability to detect complications much earlier and therefore save patients from having to come to the ER, from being urgently hospitalized and possibly decrease the number of transfusions they have to get. The best part is it can all be done in a patient’s own home any time,” says Dr. Lam.

For patients like 11-year-old Anesa, who has sickle cell disease, the app could be a game-changer. 

“This app would change her life dramatically,” says her mom. It wouldn’t just limit blood draws, but also potentially head off pain crises before they start by allowing the family to detect the onset of anemia sooner, giving Anesa more of an opportunity to just be a regular kid.

Making progress happen
It’s the steadfast dedication and tireless efforts of clinicians, researchers and engineers like Drs. Lam and Mannino that define the Children’s spirit. Our team continually raises the bar to find innovative solutions that allow kids with chronic health conditions to live their best lives. From advanced technology and procedures to counseling, on-site schooling and physical therapy, we strive to provide every child the comprehensive care they deserve, and we won’t stop trying until we succeed. 

This means we must grow and expand our space and our resources to meet the increasing demand for specialized pediatric care and the need for new approaches to treatment. This careful growth requires generous donations from our community. With your help, we’re confident we can make more incredible discoveries, educate the next generation of providers and save more lives. 

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